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Veterans' suicide awareness walk

Veterans and active-duty military showed up for the walk Saturday morning through Lackawanna County acknowledging a long-ignored problem.

LACKAWANNA COUNTY, Pa. — It was no ordinary early morning stroll for these three military members. 

"I'm a marathon runner to begin with. So when he said 22 miles, I'm like, that's perfect for me," said Peter Howey, U.S. Navy.

Bags filled with water and maps, the trio set off on their 22-mile walk from Camp Freedom in Carbondale. 

Hours later they'd finish at the Patriot Resource Center in Scranton. 

They're not just doing it for the exercise.

"The mission of bringing awareness to suicide within the veteran and first responder community is a topic that we don't talk about enough," said Raul Santana, PA Army National Guard.

So why 22 miles?

The number is commonly associated with the Veterans' Suicide Awareness movement. 

A VA study done in 2013 estimated that 22 veterans a day take their own life. 

Peter Howey has served in the U.S. Navy since 2007.

He says people are often reluctant to ask for help.

"A lot of people think that if you have a mental health problem they're gonna get kicked out," said Howey.

Pennsylvania Army National Guard member Raul Santana says conversations about mental health are happening more and more though.

"Now that we are able to understand that it's okay to not be okay, we're able to gather together, talk about our traumas, talk about our experiences," said Santana.

There was also a 5-mile walk, which not surprisingly was the more popular option. And although this group logged fewer miles the message remained the same.

"Being strong is asking for help. If you're struggling, there's resources available. Don't be afraid to reach out and ask for help," said Robert Kerecman, Valhalla Veterans Services.

Both walks were hosted by the Jarett Yoder Foundation; a nonprofit started by the mother of a Pennsylvania National Guard soldier killed in Afghanistan.

"It's their first year doing it. They have a great plan for what they want to do to help veterans and reach out to local communities. So I think supporting them here is a pretty good opportunity," said Chris Lopopolo, PA National Guard.

"Because at the end of the day, if you're able to save one life, that's one more life we're able to have on God's beautiful green Earth," said Santana.

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