“Find your happiness.
“Talk about what’s going on and don’t be afraid to ask for help.”
Those are the messages 30-year-old Jeremy Miller has been spreading on his walk across the United States to bring awareness to veteran suicide and suicide in general.
Miller’s passion for suicide awareness centers around his eight-year military career in the U.S. Army Reserve in his hometown of Boise, Id.
He did a tour of Iraq in 2011.
“Almost everyone that comes back from Iraq comes back with PTSD,” he said.
PTSD (post-traumatic stress disorder) is a mental health problem that some people – soldiers and civilians – develop after experiencing or witnessing a life-threatening event, like combat, a natural disaster, a car accident or sexual assault.
“We did not lose anybody in Iraq. When we got home we lost four guys within three years to suicide,” Miller said. “About four months ago I tried to take my own life.”
According to the American Foundation for Suicide Prevention in 2017, there were 41,173 suicide deaths nationally, 553 in Kansas. Miller said there are 22 suicide deaths per day by veterans.
“I was almost one of those statistics,” he said.
He decided to turn his life around and bring awareness to suicide.
“I’m out here finding my happiness,” he said. “This (walk) has saved my life. I also wanted to raise awareness for everyone else.”
He said getting help and seeing counselors is important but something many veterans shy away from.
“There is no easy answer. It’s hard because there are so many different reasons that people might do it. There is no fix-all,” he said.
Miller said the military could do a better job to make it known that help is available.
“A lot of times it’s ‘here’s a card with the suicide hotline on it,’ but they could go over it more and talk to the guys,” he said. “Make it known they can seek help without getting in trouble for it.”
He said veterans don’t want to be labeled as having a mental illness.
“Losing their job, losing their gun rights because of mental illness,” he said, “Are concerns.”
Miller’s journey started in Crescent City, Calif., and eventually he wants to end up in at the Arlington National Cemetery in November right outside of Washington, D.C.
Miller walks with a cart to carry necessities such as water and a solar power generator for his phone. He lives off donations.
“I try to spend very frugally, sleep in my tent if I don’t have a hotel room donated to me,” he said. “At the end I want to put the money into a nonprofit. I’m trying to not spend anything.”
He said the reception he has received in Kansas has been exceptional.
“In Kansas I got more support than I could ever have imagined,” he said. “
Tuesday he stayed at the Salina Fire Department. Before that, he stayed with the Ellsworth firefighters.
Miller stayed in Abilene three nights for two speaking engagements.
He was driven to Manhattan Wednesday night to speak to the Delta Upsilon fraternity.
The day before, Tuesday, a member of another fraternity had taken his own life.
“I just happened to be there and it was a good time to talk about suicide awareness,” he said.
Walking into town Wednesday wearing a Salina Fire Department shirt. Abilene Fire Chief Bob Sims and his crew made sure Miller will leave town with an Abilene Fire Department logo on his shirt.
Saturday he will get a ride to Manhattan because he couldn’t walk there by Saturday where he has been invited to speak at Praisefest.
“I didn’t want to get a ride but I figured at Praisefest I will be in front of a lot of people. I’ll get a ride for 40 miles if I can reach out to 10,000 people,” he said. “If I am walking, I might talk to five.”
Preaisefest, in Cico Park in Manhattan, is a free outdoor Christian music festival.
Walk for Hope
Miller was spreading his word Thursday, the same day that “Abilene Walk for Hope” was held at Abilene Rose Garden as part of Suicide Awareness Month. The event was sponsored by Memorial Health System, Senior Life Solutions and the Quality of Life Coalition.
According to Allan Bunch, vice president of communications and development of the Kansas Suicide Prevention Resource Center, 800 calls from Dickinson County were received in a year.
Ajit Pai, chairman of the Federal Communications Commission who visited Abilene Memorial Hospital Thursday, said a three number lifeline of 988 is being planned.
“The current national suicide prevention hotline is 1-800-273-TALK and is difficult to remember,” Pai said. “Congress passed a law last year asking the FCC to look into the feasibility of a three-digit dialing code for suicide prevention and mental health consultation.”
He said the FCC proposed that 988 be the three-digit dialing code.
“We are hopeful that we will be able to open up a national conversation of that,” he said.
Contact Tim Horan at email@example.com.