Military members ages 20-24 have the highest rate of suicide in the nation.
With that information on a poster, Jacob Schaefers advertised the Veteran Suicide Awareness March he organized. Held on Sunday at the Dakota State University track, the march attracted around 80 people to walk laps or make donations.
“The first year, I did it myself by walking out to the Broadwater Bar, because that was 22 miles, just to see if I could do it,” Schaefers said.
The event is in its fifth year now. During the first two years he walked 22 miles; during the past three years he has walked 22 laps.
“The second year I had some family and friends join me, and we did the same trail out to the Broadwater and back, but that was tough for most of them,” Schaefers indicated. “I talked to DSU and was able to use the track to do 22 laps instead, which has been a lot nicer.”
Schaefers, a Marine Corp veteran, began the local march because he was not able to attend marches in other states in which his friends participated. He chose 22 miles or 22 laps because the most commonly used statistic in talking about veteran suicide comes from a study published in 2013 which indicated 22 veterans die each day by suicide.
A more recent report, the 2020 National Veteran Suicide Prevention Annual Report, produced by the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs, indicates that between 2005 and ‘18, on average, between 16.4 and 18 veterans died by suicide each day. His poster stated, “This is a tragedy that not only affects the military community, but also the family and friends of those veterans.”
Schaefers said that participants walked 1,400 laps this year. He determined this by giving each participant 22 tickets. With each lap, each participant would drop one ticket into a box. Some walked the full 22 laps; others walked fewer.
“At the end of it, I counted all the tickets and that was the total,” he stated.
He is not surprised at the way the march has grown.
“I am not surprised by the way it’s grown, because I know there is far more support in any community than people believe,” Schaefers indicated. However, he is surprised at the number of resources available to veterans.
“As a vet myself, I had no idea about some of the programs and help available to me, and I don’t think most vets really do either. So, that’s something that I want to get out,” he said. He believes information is best disseminated word-of-mouth at events where veterans gather.
Although his primary purpose for organizing the march each year is to raise awareness, Schaefer also accepts donations and sells T-shirts. This year, the shirt read, “Marching together to stand against feeling alone.” By doing so, he raised more than $1,000 to donate to Mission 22.
Mission 22 is a national organization which offers treatment to veterans for Post-Traumatic Stress and for Traumatic Brain Injury. Schaefers chooses to support this organization because it provides programs for veterans.
“I wouldn’t have the first clue what to do with any of the donation, but I trust them to do great things with it,” he said. “Yes, they serve vets with PTSD and TBI, but those cause so much struggle to a vet and that may lead to suicide.”