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Veteran suicide awareness

The official government statistic on veteran suicide is that 22 veterans take their own lives every day. Mike and Sarah Wargo believe the real number is much more than that.

“The real number is probably closer to 80 or 90 a day, because our son is not included in that 22,” according to Mike Wargo.

“Someone who overdoses on drugs because they want to die, well that’s considered an overdose, not a suicide. Someone who drives down the road and into a bridge because they want to die, that’s an accident. No, it’s really a suicide. The ‘22 a day’ is based on veterans who recorded their PTSD and asked for help. That does not include those who did not ask for help. Those are the one we need to reach.”

The Wargos teamed up with VALOR to host the Memorial Mile Walk, which is to raise funds for the Memorial Mile that is to be built in Kidder Township. The Memorial Mile will be 1 mile long and will feature 4-by-8 granite panels with the names of all veterans who died from suicide.

State Rep. Doyle Heffley spoke at the walk.

“There are people who are impacted with traumatic experiences with war. And certainly I know I don’t have the answers; but there are people that do have solutions, and there are people who are working on those solutions. The Valor House and Mark Baylis; Christine LeClaire, and all she does with the veterans through her capacity in putting forth programs that really work in trying to get government out of the way and help individuals so they have a place to go, a place to talk.”

LeClair, director of Carbon County Veterans Affairs, spoke to the Wargos.

“You’re both so inspiring, and I am always awe-struck by your courage and bravery when you tell your story with the hope that another family will not need to experience such a tragic loss.”

LeClair said Carbon County leads the commonwealth in veteran suicide. The county has obtained a grant to add additional training programs and resources.

“We didn’t even know our son had PTSD until the day he died, because he hid it so well,” Sarah Wargo said.

“He kept it a secret from us. We didn’t know what PTSD was. We’ve learned a lot in the past eight years. It was eight years ago May 20 that he died. Thursday, May 20, 2013. We’ve made some progress, but not enough.”

“I’ve often said our government spends so much time and money preparing our soldiers to go over and fight,” Mike Wargo said.

“But, when they come back, it’s ‘Thank you, forget what you’ve seen for the last couple years, the bloodshed and the deaths.’ Michael had seen 10 of his buddies die in action around him, and he came home with terrific survivor guilt. How can you see guys you’ve slept with in bunks, and the next day they’re dead. This had a tremendous impact on Michael, and I’m sure this happens with most of our military that comes back over from overseas.”

Wargo said for every soldier that’s killed in action, 20 come home and take their own life.

“20 to one; we’ve got to stop that. That’s unacceptable.”

Baylis, the founder of Valor House, said a Keep them Alive Ride will go to Harrisburg on Sept. 18. He said riders will “scream at the boys at the top of our lungs, to beg our politicians that it’s time to do more, that this tragedy can’t continue.”

“We’ve lost less than 10,000 people in armed conflict since 9/11, it’s a tragedy, I take nothing from that. But that we’ve lost more than 160,000 at their own hand after they came home is a disgrace. And if we have not risen to fix the problem, somebody’s got to be the voice; and if you came here today, that voice is you. Thank you for coming to help make a difference.”

The Memorial Mile Walk was 1 mile; half a mile down the D&L trail, and half a mile back. All along the path were posters for every state and territory in the U.S. with the number of veteran suicides from each state. Walkers went in groups of 25 and paused at each poster as the group leader read the number to them.

If you or someone you know needs help, contact Valor at 570-664-6468 or email them at info@valorclinic.org. Visit their website to learn more: www.ValorClinic.org.

Michael and Sarah Wargo next to the memorial in honor of their son, SPC. Michael C. Wargo. See a photo gallery at www.tnonline.com JIM LOGUE JR./SPECIAL TO THE TIMES NEWS
Michael, Sarah and Kerry Wargo address the crowd at the Memorial Mile Walk in Lehighton.
People walk a mile to bring awareness to the issue of veteran suicides. See a photo gallery at tnonline.com on the event. JIM LOGUE JR./SPECIAL TO THE TIMES NEWS