Veteran rallies support for vets' peace of mind
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Veteran rallies support for vets' peace of mind
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Which is why come the 22nd of each month you'll find him standing at the Huntsville/Madison County Veterans Memorial to let Tennessee Valley veterans know they're not alone -- there is help.

"It's hard to reach out," said Geary, who once had those suicidal thoughts as a veteran himself. "After all, we're supposed to be tough military guys, we're not supposed to ask for help. We're supposed to help anybody. I've got a good group of friends and family that helped me, but there are guys and girls out there who don't have that. Being that alone is a situation that would drive a lot of people crazy, where you can't think straight and resort to doing something like suicide."

The 2012 Suicide Data Report from the Department of Veterans Affairs Mental Health Services, Suicide Prevention Program estimated that 22 veterans died as a result of suicide in 2010. When Geary heard about the 22: Too Many rallies created by veteran Matthew O'Dell in Murfreesboro, Tennessee, the outreach struck a chord in him. In November he and some fellow motorcyclists from the Crooked Road Riders Club made the drive up to Tennessee for the rally, and in December brought the event to Huntsville. Rain or shine, from 12 to 1 p.m. on the 22nd of each month, all are invited to the Veterans Memorial to stand up to suicide.

"We stand out there for the people in Huntsville to understand that vets bring back a lot of issues with them, whether it be physical or mental," Geary said. "As citizens we support them when they move forward into a warzone -- when they come home we need to give them that same support."

Purple Heart veteran Ronald Swaim stood on the curb with his wife Beverly, a living testament to the trials and tribulations life after the military can bring, but proof of the power of perseverance and the importance of having a group of supportive people standing behind you.

"We're trying to help these boys who get back who don't have any support," Beverly said. "With Ronny, his support was his family, that's what brought him around. You just never give up -- never."

Swaim was just 17 when he quit high school to join the Army, fulfilling an inner calling to serve his country and make it a better place. He spent nine months in Vietnam, where he was injured after stepping on a landmine. He returned to the States an amputee with no high school diploma -- but with the loving support of his family, he didn't give up. He got married, went to school and worked for more than 30 years on the Arsenal before retiring.

"Now he can do anything he wants -- he rides motorcycles, he's raced cars," Beverly said. "I've seen his determination. If he can do it, anybody can do it."

Wanda Denise Gilbert, prevention education coordinator with the Army Substance Abuse Program, which cares for the whole person -- both body and well-being, including mental health -- was on hand April 22 to show her support, as well as to answer any questions about the Suicide Prevention Program available through ASAP, as well as other services.

"Their feelings are real," Gilbert said. "Sometimes they think because they have these feelings that it's not OK. They don't want to share them, they're weak, they're less of a person -- but their feelings are real and there's someone out there who can help you."

If you are a veteran considering suicide, call the VA Crisis Line at 1-800-273-8255.