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Virginia man walks 220 miles to spotlight veteran suicides

Virginia man walks 220 miles to spotlight veteran suicides

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Brian Moore

Retired Army Sgt. 1st Class Brian Moore walked along the side of Village Highway in Concord as he completed the final two miles of his 220 miles of hiking on Thursday.

CONCORD — After weeks of walking through rain and fog, with the occasional swollen feet, Army veteran Brian Moore walked his last mile Thursday afternoon of a solo, 220-mile journey across various trails in Virginia to bring awareness to an issue very close to his heart: suicide among veterans.

Moore, a sergeant, served three tours in Afghanistan and Iraq, where he was wounded. Those injuries, including several concussions, nerve damage and a dislocated hip, earned him a Purple Heart.

He said he had suicidal thoughts before attending the first-ever class offered by the Concord-based Providence Farm for veterans with post-traumatic stress disorder in 2015, according to his GoFundMe page, where he raises money for the farm.

“Even in our own lives, we face challenges. ... Brian walked for hope,” said James McLeod, founder of the volunteer-run, nonprofit farm.

Moore’s walk through the Blue Ridge Mountains brought him into contact with numerous strangers with whom he was able to talk about the suicide rates among veterans. He said he was surprised by how open and welcoming the people he met on the trail were.

“I met nothing but strangers. Once I said what I was doing, they wanted to help,” Moore said.

Others asked why he carried a white shepherd’s staff with black stripes on it. He said the staff had 22 stripes, which represent the number of veterans who commit suicide every day across the country.

That statistic comes from the Department of Veterans Affairs 2012 Suicide Data report, which calculated the percentage of veteran suicides out of all suicides listed on death certificates from 21 states from 1999 to 2011. That number (22 percent) was divided by the number of days in a year to reach the statistic of 22 veteran suicides per day, according to The Washington Post.

Moore’s walk began at the Blue Ridge Parkway, where he had planned to camp, but a park ranger told him he was not allowed. So he said he stayed in hotels and ate at area restaurants.

He would park his truck, walk for the day and then walk back to his truck and figure out where he was going to stay for the night.

Moore said that during his first week on the parkway, there was very heavy fog. Cars would drive by, and the people inside would turn around “with a look of terror,” Moore said. After that, he decided to only walk on the parkway during sunny days.

His walk was scheduled to end earlier this past week, but he was delayed because of the rain from Hurricane Matthew. The trails he intended to walk became like little streams, he said.

Moore concurrently raised about $3,000 during his walk, and that was donated to Providence Farm.

The nonprofit opened in September 2015 and offers 12-week classes for veterans and the families of veterans to help cope with the aftereffects of being in combat.

About 47 percent of veterans who participate in the classes end up volunteering and giving back to the organization that helped them, McLeod said.

Almost all veterans who participate in classes served in conflicts ranging from the Vietnam War to present-day battles. The goal is to have up to 1,000 veterans graduate from the nonprofit’s program each year.

He added there are 800,000 veterans in a four-hour radius of Providence Farm.

McLeod said he wants to use the money from Moore for numerous projects, including getting the farm ready for winter, building cabins for a future overnight one-week camp, and holiday meals for soldiers and their families.

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