Veterans march in Roanoke to prevent veteran suicide

Updated: May. 8, 2021 at 5:41 PM EDT
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ROANOKE, Va. (WDBJ) - Veterans from across southwest Virginia came together in Roanoke Saturday, May 8, to bring awareness to the mental health issues many of them face after leaving the military.

The Big Lick Mental Health Awareness Cooperation hosted Saturday’s 22k Veteran Suicide Awareness March in Wasena park. The event organizer said the march was all about veterans supporting each other in an effort to prevent veteran suicide.

“I was in the United States Army, I was up in Fort Drum, New York. I did one tour in Afghanistan doing artillery ... That was in [20]13 and ’14, and I got out in ’15 and came across a really hard time and developed kind of an idea to help not just myself but the community as a whole,” said Mark Shelton, president of Big Lick Mental Health Awareness Cooperation and the march organizer.

In 2016, Shelton created this annual veteran suicide awareness event, also called the Big Lick Ruck.

“When people separate from service, they deal with a lot of mental health issues, and I think having a strong community and a strong network of veterans supporting each other is super helpful for something like this,” he said.

This year, the event organizers partnered with New Freedom Farm to raise funds for the farm’s mission of “Healing Heroes through Horses.”

“It’s not about the money raised, it’s about if one person is struggling, reach out, you’re worth it,” Lois Dawn Fritz, founder and director of New Freedom Farm, said to the crowd of veterans.

The marchers each carried bags equal to 22 pounds of weight or greater.

“The weight itself represents the 22-a-day of veteran suicides; that number seems ridiculous and it is. That being said, it’s gone up since the pandemic,” Shelton said.

Stops on on the 14-mile trek included Safe Side Tactical and the U.S. Veterans Outreach Center. The veterans enjoyed beers at Big Lick Brewing Company.

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