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Murrieta resident walks 2,022 miles to honor fallen veterans

Ava Sarnowski

Valley News Intern

U.S. Veteran Administration statistics confirm that "every day, 22 veterans will commit suicide on American soil." That is one veteran every 65 minutes.

According to the VA, "the total number of those losing their battle grows larger with each day research and treatments are not able to be done," and everywhere, folks are trying to spread awareness on the matter.

Jill Byers is one of those individuals wishing to honor fallen soldiers who have succumbed to their internal and unspoken troubles. On July 22, at the Murrieta Veterans Memorial in Town Square Park, she completed her goal of walking 2,022 miles this year to represent each one of the 22 veterans who will take their life every day. She was accompanied by Mac Byers, her husband, City of Murrieta Councilmember Christi White, fellow veteran and Ambassador for "Misson22" Jerry Merrit and many others.

Byers is no stranger to the issues that plague veterans, especially when so much of her own family consists of deployed Marines. She has previously been involved with organizations "Run For The Wall" and "WalkForVets," and has heard countless stories pertaining to the veterans lost from self-inflicted harm.

"It's a big issue. Knowing our kids and what they've gone through. One of our kids was wounded in Afghanistan and was medically retired. They go through hell and they hold so much of it in. Some people handle it great, some people don't, and it's very important," Mac Byers said.

Jill Byers said she felt a deep calling to do something in her community after taking on the Virtual One Life challenge of running 2,022 miles in 2022. She had completed her 300 miles in the past but choose to devote this goal specifically to the 22 veterans that commit suicide every day.

While walking, Byers carries the American flag on her back and the names of veterans lost to suicide around her neck, in an effort to spread awareness of the mental issues these soldiers fight through.

"The military will acknowledge it, but kind of not, because if they fully acknowledge it, then they have to do something more than what they're doing," Byers says. "That's why it's so imperative to help these organizations. They rely on our generosity and our kind hearts to help them. They are not going to get too much from the government."

The impact of her devotion has rippled across the community and reached the hearts of many onlookers. Byers has experienced several accounts of individuals rushing to approach her and thanking her for her efforts. Whether they be retired soldiers still battling their own inner turmoil, or a family member helping a loved one fight from the outside, her work cannot be understated.

Today, Byers continues to raise money for the "Wheelchairs For Warriors" organization. The night before she surpassed her 2,022 miles, she also reached her donation goal of $5,000. The funds obtained will be given back to one veteran injured in the line of duty, in the form of a custom wheelchair.

Mac Byers made sure to stress the importance of a veteran's mobility, or potential lack thereof, after they return home from war.

"The mobility is what causes a lot of depression in the men, which causes suicidal tendencies," Mac Byers said. "When they get wheelchairs that have mobility to them, and special functions where they can go off-road, it just changes their outlook."

To help Byers collect more funds to give back to injured veterans, donations can be made online at give.wheelchairsforwarriors.org/fundraiser/3685149,

Byers' challenge may be complete but the mission to prevent further veteran suicides continues. While awareness of their mental issues may be prevalent, it remains an almost taboo subject of discussion, to not only some families, but the military itself.

"Nobody hears this stuff," Mac Byers said while discussing the matter. "There's no awareness, and we hear constantly through our groups about the suicides. This stuff is hidden and boiling inside of these guys. A lot of them just have to be the tough Marine. You suck it up and hold it in, but it destroys them from the inside."

The couple said that it is crucial that action be taken to prevent further tragedies from occurring. There are countless organizations devoted to seeing that veterans find the help they need. Even if donations cannot be made, spreading the word remains most impactful, they said.

Wear "red on a Friday," send a prayer when faced with the number 22, Jill Byers said, adding that each action counts toward expanding the cause.

To help in the fight against veteran suicide visit, fightthewarwithin.org, walkforvets.org, http://www.wheelchairsforwarriors.org, rftw.us, mission22.com, http://www.hfotusa.org, milvet.org, http://www.ridefor22.org, http://www.22untilnone.org, http://www.22toomany.com, wedefyfoundation.org, militarychildrenscharity.org, projectrollcall.org/phone/index.html, http://www.carrytheload.org, allsecurefoundation.org and http://www.hicksstrong.org.

Ava Sarnowski can be reached by email at [email protected].

 

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