Army veteran walks across U.S. to raise suicide awareness

An Army veteran is walking across America to raise awareness of veteran suicides.

PHOENIX – One man passed through the Valley on a route he planned that is roughly 2,200 miles across the country.

WHY?

He said the mileage represents the 22 veterans who commit suicide each day in our country.

And he's not asking for anything -- he doesn't want your money or items. He just wants you to pay attention.

"It's unfortunate we allow veterans to get so lost to not seek the help that they need,” said Ernesto Rodriguez, who has been walking since Nov. 11. "My feet hurt every single day.

But the pain of spanning the continent on foot is nothing compared to the pain of veterans who take their own lives.

PERSONAL CONNECTION

"I really, truly believe it's an epidemic,” he said.

It’s an epidemic this 34-year-old U.S. Army veteran is familiar with, having tried to commit suicide two times himself while he was still active duty. He served two deployments in Afghanistan and Iraq in a 15-year military career.

"The burdens of being in combat and seeing the things soldiers see while they are [on deployment] put me in a deep state of despair and anger. I had a wife and child, and unfortunately, they left me,” only adding to his burden and invisible wounds.

REALITY

Up to 22 veterans take their own lives every day in the U.S. According to the Center for Violence Prevention at ASU, it's 24 veterans per month in our state alone.

So Rodriguez is walking from Clarksville, Tennessee to Los Angeles, and he wants everyone to hear a message.

"I dedicated 2,200 miles to the walk to bring recognition to that number. There is a better way [than suicide]. There is light at the end of the tunnel,” he said.

Making stops along the way, he thanks veterans for their service and meets with people of nonprofits which help veterans with housing and other needs.

And before even reaching the end, he has realized sometimes you get back more than you give.

"It's my therapy, too, to walk,” said Rodriguez. “This keeps me grounded and it keeps me humble and it gives me a mission."

From Phoenix, Rodriguez will head north to Las Vegas through Flagstaff on March 11 before heading to the West Coast.

© 2017 KPNX-TV


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