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Witness Tree brings awareness to suicide among veterans

Posted at 8:55 AM, Nov 11, 2020
and last updated 2020-11-11 11:55:09-05

Each day since November 1, a group called Warriors Journey Home shows up at Veterans Memorial Park in Green, Ohio, offers a brief prayer and then turns their attention to a metal tree that measures less than five feet tall.

They quietly hang 22 dog tags on the Witness Tree to represent the 22 veterans who die from suicide each day in the U.S. The final 22 tags will be placed on the tree on Veterans Day.

"We're going to have 242 dog tags on this tree. Those are 242 lives that didn't have to end this way and we can do something about it," said John Schluep, an Army veteran who runs the local chapter of Warriors Journey Home.

Keith Van Buskirk, a veteran of the Marine Corps Reserve, said seeing all of the dog tags is emotional for him.

"It definitely provokes an emotional response in me. It makes me wish I could shake the hand or hug every one of those war fighters on that tree," Van Buskirk said.

Both Schluep and Van Buskirk said they knew veterans who committed suicide.

"I was called yesterday about a young man who had taken his life, a Marine veteran from Iraq," Schluep said.

The non-profit has a mission to provide spiritual healing and soul repair from the invisible wounds for veterans, families and the community.

Schluep said there are many reasons for suicides among veterans, including a struggle to find wellness when adjusting from military culture back to civilian life.

"Loneliness, abandonment, isolation, lack of fitting into that community," Schluep said.

Those in the community who support Warriors Journey Home are known as "strong hearts." Their role is considered crucial because they help share some of the burdens that veterans face.

"Part of that is opening our hearts to listen, to share that responsibility. That's what I want people to think about. We can do a better job," Schluep told WEWS.

The group urges veterans, who may be struggling, to reach out to their organization, based in Cuyahoga Falls, by calling 330-715-5683 or contacting Veterans Affairs.

Van Buskirk stressed many of us can do our part by doing something simple to help veterans.

"If you know somebody that served in the military, it's just an awareness thing about picking up the phone and calling to check in on them," he said.

The National Suicide Prevention Lifeline is a national network of local crisis centers that provides free and confidential emotional support to people in suicidal crisis or emotional distress 24 hours a day, seven days a week. Call 1-800-273-8255 if you are experiencing thoughts of suicide or mental distress.

This story was originally published by Bob Jones at WEWS.