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State VA partners with UA, Auburn in march to raise awareness of vet suicide

Operation Iron Ruck is a four-day, 151-mile march from Tuscaloosa to Auburn set for November 24-27.

HUNTSVILLE, Alabama — There were 106 veteran suicides in Alabama in 2019, and to help raise awareness of veteran suicide prevention the Alabama Department of Veterans Affairs has partnered with students at the University of Alabama and Auburn University in a four-day, 151-mile march from Tuscaloosa to Auburn. 

Operation Iron Ruck is to take place Nov. 24-27 and will see participants from student veteran organizations carry 17-pound rucksacks, symbolizing the 17 veterans who die by suicide nationally each day, filled with donated items that will be delivered to Alabama’s veteran charities.  

RELATED: Mental Health Monday: Veterans face struggles in civilian life

Alabama’s veteran suicide rate in 2019 of 28.7 per 100,000 veterans was slightly less than the national average of 31.6, but much higher than the national rate for all in the U.S. that year, at 13.9. 

“It speaks volumes that the Alabama and Auburn student veterans’ associations set aside their rivalry during the week of the Iron Bowl to work together in raising awareness about veteran suicide,” said ADVA commissioner Kent Davis in a statement. “This march establishes a connectedness and level of support that has a lasting impact within the veteran community. I’m proud of both universities and all participants for the work they are doing to help raise awareness for veteran suicide.”

Davis is also co-chair of Alabama’s Challenge for Preventing Suicide Among Service Members, Veterans, and Their Families, a statewide initiative made up of numerous state departments, Gov Kay Ivey’s office, the state Legislature the Alabama National Guard and several nonprofits. The campaign is working to raise awareness of veteran suicide prevention through public service announcements and efforts to connect families in need of help with resources to provide that assistance. 

RELATED: Still Serving Veterans provides resources to veterans in North Alabama

“Once someone has served our great nation, we owe it to these great men and women to help them enter civilian life,” Ivey said in March at the launch of the campaign. “I can think of no better way to say, ‘thank you for your service’ than ensuring these heroes and their families have access to mental health resources when in need.”

To learn more about Operation Iron Ruck contact the UA Campus Veterans Association at 205-348-0983 or the AU Student Veterans Association at 850-855-1060.

To reach the confidential Veterans Crisis Line call 800-272-8255 or chat with someone who can help by visiting the Veterans Crisis Line’s website.

This story originally appeared in the Alabama Political Reporter.