When now 69-year-old Army veteran Jon Luker returned home from serving in the Panama Canal Zone during the Vietnam War era, he knew something was different about himself.
“I was just walking around confused and not motivated to get involved in anything, but I didn’t understand the source of my confusion, why I was tired all the time and why I couldn’t get sleep,” Luker told the Livingston Daily.
Eventually, Luker was able to get a handle on his own mental health, but the experience inspired him to take over the coordinating of a veterans suicide awareness project originally founded by the Veterans Refuge Network.
Now, every day during the month of October, people gather at the American Legion Devereaux Post 141 at 10 a.m. to place crosses and even share personal stories of mental health struggles.
22 new crosses have been installed each day, representing the number of veterans that committed suicide each day between 1999 and 2010. Since then, the number is thought to have dropped closer to 16 a day – fewer, but still too many.
By the end of this month, there will be 660 crosses outside the American Legion, signifying 22 suicides a day for 30 days.
“It’s a little hard on your ego to consider yourself as someone who cannot function, especially when you’ve been in the military and you are supposed to be able to do anything,” he said.
“The VA is underfunded. … I think many veterans think, if I get this service, then someone else won’t who needs it more,” he continued.
“It’s closer to home than we know. We as citizens are responsible for taking care of veterans and knowing what we can do to help them,” said local businessman John Conely, whose uncle took his own life at age 40 after serving in WWII.
Luker recommends seeking out local organizations, such as Warriors and Caregivers United, a Michigan-based peer support group.
Luker says he also refers people to Livingston County Veterans’ Services and Community Mental Health for help finding resources.
He said veterans can also call the national Veterans Crisis Line at 1-800-273-8255.