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Display raises awareness of veteran suicides

by CHUCK BANDEL
Valley Press | September 13, 2023 12:00 AM

The scars of the battlefield are often readily recognizable and visible.

Sometimes they are not.

But as the unseen scars linger on, casualties continue to mount in what has become a battle against one of the most underrated effects of war on those who have already given so much for their country.

The statistics are staggering: on average 22 veterans commit suicide each day, and the number may be significantly higher according to those combating the problem, across the nation.

“We need to maintain awareness of this problem,” said Wild Horse VFW quarter master Heather Allen, one of several local vets who are doing what they can to focus attention on veteran suicides. “We travel the country and the state to do what we can to maintain and boost awareness of this problem”.

Allen and other veterans recently completed a coast-to-coast round trip to do just that, culminating with the delivery of a piece of art created by local artist Dave Williams, that draws attention to “green star” families of veterans who have taken their own lives.

That effort is at the forefront of local veteran Ed Foste, who made a promise to his brother to continue to do whatever it takes to conquer veteran suicide.

“We need to maintain awareness of and community involvement in the fight against this situation,” said Foste, a co-founder along with Williams of Joint Operation Mariposa, an organization committed to helping veterans struggling with thoughts of suicide. “My brother committed suicide by cop and it is in his memory I do what I can”.

Foste said his brother was a member of the famed 82nd Airborne who served in both the Iraq and Afghanistan wars. “There are a lot of vets out there struggling with this and not many services to help them in many parts of the country, including this area where we live”.

As part of the effort to draw attention to the issue, Foste has maintained a memorial on the green strip of grass adjacent to Highway 200 in Plains. During the month of September, 22 flags are added to a sadly growing field of flags, each one of them representing the number of veterans who take their own lives on average every day of the year.

“The flags should actually represent more because the number most people believe is higher than what is claimed,” he said as he helped a young family add another row to the growing tribute. “There are a lot of vets right here in Sanders and Mineral counties where we have one of the highest suicide rates in the country”.

Also present at the makeshift memorial was the VFW pickup truck used by Allen and Williams to boost awareness and meet with vets from one coast to the other. The artwork, a large painting of a horse, they brought with them was presented to Montana Congressman Matt Rosendale in Washington, DC.

“The total trip was 6800 miles or so,” Allen said. “The horse painting is currently on display at the VFW Building in DC while a permanent home is sought. The trip was great, we touched a lot of people and many who have been affected personally were grateful we made the journey”.

Along the way the truck was autographed by many veterans, she added.

Foste, meanwhile, vows to keep up the effort to draw awareness to veteran suicide, “no matter how long it takes.”

“The thing is sometimes the vets just need someone to talk with,” he said. “Words can really help. If you know a veteran who has displayed a change in demeanor or activity and asking them if they are okay is often the best way to find help for them.”

Foste said his brother called the national veteran suicide hotline the day before he committed suicide but continued with his plan to take his own life.

“There are people right here in Plains, at the hospital, who can help,” said Foste. “Its a matter of talking to the vet and asking if he’s okay and helping them find those who can help.”

The suicide awareness display has attracted a lot of attention and every person who becomes aware of the problem has the potential to help.

“There are a lot of people who stop and check this out,” he said of the memorial. “And doing this and talking with people helps me out too.”

One family who stopped to help plant a new row of flags last week was Plains residents Devin and Ahna Connor who brought their two daughters Cora, 4, and Kaylah, 8, to help Foste put in a new row of flags.

“This is an absolutely amazing display,” said Devin. “We talk to the kids about this and they want to help too.”

photo

Local veteran Ed Foste straightens a banner that is part of a display he and other vets have put together to draw attention to the issue of suicide among veterans. (Chuck Bandel/VP-MI)