Student veterans host suicide prevention walk Tuesday

Posted on Apr 10 2017 - 9:13pm by Anna Gibbs and Amelia Hanks

The Ole Miss Student Veterans of America is hosting its second-annual Mission 22 Walk to raise awareness of veteran and military suicide rates in America Tuesday. The walk will take place from 4 p.m. to 6 p.m. beginning at the Lyceum.

Aaron Rutkowski is a Mission 22 ambassador for the state of Mississippi.

Aaron Rutkowski is a Mission 22 ambassador for the state of Mississippi.

In addition to the walk, there is also a push-up contest for ROTC and fraternity members prior to the event. The OMSVA has been hosting a social media contest on their Facebook and Instagram pages since last month, which will continue until the day of the event. The winning organization will receive a trophy.

Mission 22 is a non-profit founded by veterans who have had personal experiences with Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder and Traumatic Brain Injury. The organization’s name comes from the 2015 veteran suicide rate statistic, which stated that 21 veterans and one military service member committed suicide every day.

Aaron Rutkowski, OMSVA president and Mission 22 ambassador, said the organization has a positive impact on veterans at Ole Miss.

“When I first got here, I had a veteran come to me and say that he was having problems with suicidal thoughts, and that he needed to be with other veterans and needed help,” Rutkowski said. “That sparked me to figure out a nonprofit organization that could benefit [veterans like him].”

Rutkowski also said since the organization’s inception, the statistic has decreased.

“Within a year, that number dropped to 19 veterans and one military member a day. So there is progress,” Rutkowski said. “Their entire organization is based on helping their ambassadors like myself host events to bring awareness.”

For Bree Kirk, a Marine Corps veteran and OMSVA social media officer, she said her main goal is to show support for veterans with mental health issues.

“I feel like I can’t ever give enough,” Kirk said. “Those guys have given so much more than I could ever imagine. To see them forgotten about breaks my heart, so to bring attention to this is important.”

OMSVA has raised $700 so far in t-shirt sales, and 15 percent of the proceeds will go toward Mission 22. Mission 22 uses the donations to raise awareness and provide treatment for veterans, according to their website.

Chris Guizerix, a Navy veteran and criminal justice major, said the Mission 22 Walk and OMSVA serve a vital role in supporting veterans.

“If you talk to the veterans, most of us have had a brother or sister in the service who has taken their own life, and it hits you hard,” Guizerix said. “The walk will help other veterans on campus know they’re not alone, and that there’s a group of like-minded people who are there if they need someone to lean on.”

This article was contributed to The Daily Mississippian from an advanced reporting class.