Veteran hits the road to raise awareness of veteran suicide

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INDIANAPOLIS — A Marine and Army veteran is on the mission to visit all 50 state capitols to raise money and raise awareness for veteran suicide.

Darren Hafford made a stop in Indianapolis Thursday to talk about veteran suicide. In 2016, he started participating in the 22 Pushup challenge after getting challenged by one of his old Army Sergeants. He put his own spin on the challenge, doing 22 pushups for the Army and 22 pushups for the Marine Corps for 44 days.

The pushup challenge has roots in the 2012 Veteran’s Administration report that said veterans are 21 percent more likely to die to suicide than civilians and that, on average, 22 veterans a day die to suicide.

A group of Marines and a sailor decided to raise awareness for struggling veterans by starting the challenge in 2015. It went viral in 2016 and people ranging from everyday people to celebrities took part in the challenge.

Hafford says he hopes struggling veterans see the challenge and know that they are not alone.

“I’m hoping the message gets out to other veterans that might be going through a tough time, look, there’s complete strangers who want to help,” Hafford said.

Since the 2012 report, the number of veterans dying to suicide has decreased to 17.6 in 2018. The 2020 National Veteran Suicide Prevention Annual Report reports the suicide rate for Veterans was 1.5 times the rate for civilians,

Hafford decided to take the challenge on the go after he tested positive for COVID-19 in August 2020.

“It really made me want to do something, something that gave me a sense of purpose again, like the military did,” Hafford said in a GoFundMe post.

His goal is to do 50 pushups at all 50 state capitols in 50 days. Hafford started his road trip in Dallas, Texas, driving to Austin before driving to Pheonix and up the West Coast. He has been working his way East from there. Indiana is the 19th state on his trip.

“Seeing the outpouring of support from my fellow Americans across the country… it’s been really overwhelming,” Hafford said.

Hafford wants veterans to know there is help out there if they need it.

“All you have to do is ask for help,” Hafford said. “It can be the hardest thing, in the beginning, to ask for help. but once you get that first step, it’s like anything else. that first step is always the hardest.”

Hafford said getting help can help change your life.

“I got help a year and a half ago and it changed my life and I’d like to encourage other veterans, it can help you. it really can,” Hafford said.

For more information on Hafford’s journey, or to help support veterans’ mental health awareness, visit his 50 State Capitols in 50 Days website.

Suicide Prevention Resources

  • Veterans Crisis Line: If you or someone you know is in crisis, connect with the Veterans Crisis Line to reach caring, qualified responders. Contact the Veterans Crisis Line at 1-800-273-8255 and Press 1, chat online at VeteransCrisisLine.net/Chat, or send a text message to 838255.
  • #BeThere: These tips and tools can help you show your support for Veteran friends and family members and start the conversation about suicide prevention.
  • Coaching Into Care: Coaching Into Care is a national telephone service from VA that aims to educate, support, and empower family members and friends who are seeking care or services for a Veteran.
  • Make the Connection: MakeTheConnection.net is an online VA resource designed to connect Veterans, their family members and friends, and other supporters with information, resources, and solutions to issues affecting their lives.
  • PsychArmor S.A.V.E Training: This training is designed to help anyone who interacts with Veterans learn to identify the Signs of suicide, Ask questions, Validate the Veteran’s experience, and Escort the Veteran to care and Expedite treatment.
  • VA Resource Locator: Hosted by the Veterans Crisis Line, the resource locator connects you with local support available through VA, the National Resource Directory, and behavioral health treatment services from the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration.
  • Action Alliance Framework for Successful Messaging: This framework helps people develop messages about suicide prevention that are strategic, safe, and positive and that make use of relevant guidelines and best practices.

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