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Vet groups, Walmart raise money for suicide prevention program

Leader-Telegram - 9/22/2022

Sep. 22—EAU CLAIRE — On average, about 20 U.S. veterans commit suicide a day.

"That's 600 a month," said Vietnam War veteran Jim Crigler. "That's more than all the men and women killed in the Iraq War. They come for help, and what do we do? We give them antidepressants. We're not anti-drug, but we think there is a better way."

Crigler, of Winona, Minn., is board chairman of Warfighter Advance, a national organization that works with veterans and teaches them to cope with their post-traumatic stress disorder. Crigler said PTSD doesn't go away and it can't be cured, so veterans must learn to deal with the symptoms.

"We don't prepare them to go from combat, back to civilian life," Crigler said. "A lot of these guys come back from a very intense, life-and-death situation. Most of them self-medicate on alcohol, and we don't teach them how to deal with life."

Warfighter Advance, formed seven years ago, helps veterans by putting them through a seven-day course. They are flown to a program held in Maryland, where they learn coping mechanisms. Crigler said it has been highly successful.

"If you can't erase it, you teach them to deal with it," he said.

However, the program generally costs $1,800 to $2,000 per person, and Crigler said he knows most veterans won't be willing to pay that amount out-of-pocket. So, fundraisers and donations are needed to pay the costs for the veterans, he explained.

At a ceremony Thursday morning, Walmart officials announced area stores had raised $18,000 for Warfighter Advance, including $2,500 from the Eau Claire store.

"This has always been a cause dear to us," said Tany Kangas, manager at the Eau Claire Walmart. "We appreciate everything (the veterans) do for us."

The Freedom Bell Moving Salute also was present, where it chimed to reflect the number of veteran suicides each day. Numerous people walked to the bell, told a story about a loved one who committed suicide, and rang the bell in their memory.

Willie Stokes, senior vice commander of the Veterans of Foreign Wars Post 7908 in Holmen, thanked Walmart for the funding.

"We're here to put a stop to our comrades committing suicide," Stokes said. "A lot of the programs, the vets are told, 'You are okay,' and they get released. A year later, they are back to drinking and using drugs. (This program) teaches them how to deal with their normal days, when dealing with PTSD."

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