In 2012, 6,588 veterans in the United States committed suicide. So far in 2013, 3,832 have. In addition, over 201 active duty military members have ended their lives, bringing the total to 4,033 individuals who have faithfully served America. This is an increase from one every 80 minutes to one every 65 minutes, according to a news release from Team Veteran Foundation, Phoenix.
Recently, Beto O’Rourke, a freshman congressman who represents El Paso, Texas, was quoted as saying, “The average waiting time for a veteran to receive mental health assistance from the Veterans Administration is 449 days.” O’Rourke and other congressmen have sponsored a bill to help reduce the amount of time.
What can we as citizens do to help? Phoenix resident Tom L’Italien didn’t wait to have someone answer this question for him. Cycling from Flagstaff, Ariz., to Boston, L’Italien left June 21 to ride a bicycle about 2,700 miles across the country to draw attention to the veteran suicide rate.
He will be riding through parts of Arizona, New Mexico, Oklahoma, Kansas, Missouri, Illinois, Indiana, Ohio, West Virginia, Pennsylvania, New York, Connecticut, Rhode Island and Massachusetts during the 56-day journey.
L’Italien is close to this area. His tentative schedule: Day 34, Wednesday, July 24, from Franklin to Rushville; Day 35, Thursday, July 25, from Rushville to Brookville; Day 36, Friday, July 26, from Brookville to Wilmington, Ohio. Change may need to be made without notice, due to the weather, his health, bicycle repairs and presentations.
The cyclist, a brother of four veterans, comments, “When my older brother, Al, returned from Vietnam, I saw how the tragedies he experienced impacted and changed his life. Although he never talked about his experiences, we could see a big difference in him. I’m bicycling across the country to bring awareness of our responsibility in this great nation to take better care of our veterans. We need to recognize our veterans as heroes who have paid a big price for our freedom and support them when they come home. The families and loved ones of those lost to suicide continue to suffer. There are approximately 300,000 more vets coming home from the war this year.
"We need to step up and do something that will make a difference.”
L’Italien's bike ride can be followed at http://teamveteran.org/whereswaldoscousintommy. More information is available at www.teamveteran.org. Interested parties can volunteer, make in-kind donations, pledge per mile and get TVF 2013 T-shirts.