Veterans reflect as Glenwood Springs mayor declares Veterans Suicide Awareness Month | PostIndependent.com

Veterans reflect as Glenwood Springs mayor declares Veterans Suicide Awareness Month

Veterans socialize during the weekly coffee and doughnuts gathering at the Western Colorado Veterans Coalition Center in downtown Glenwood Springs.

Glenwood Springs Mayor Michael Gamba on Thursday officially signed a proclamation declaring December 2018 as Veterans Suicide Awareness Month.

The same day, just around the corner from Glenwood Springs City Hall, at the Western Slope Veterans Coalition and Resource Center, 803 Colorado Ave., men and women who served in various branches of the United States Armed Services enjoyed one another's company over hot coffee and sweet doughnuts.

At times, the veterans shared harrowing stories such as one man who, at the age of 26, spent six weeks in Vietnam. Decades later, the now retired veteran described how even the slightest noise around his home could trigger him to survey his property's entire perimeter, at least until he received help.

Another veteran at the other end of the table talked about one of his fellow veteran's suggestions about living a long, fulfilling life.

"The secret to longevity is drinking Coors beer," he joked.

The Thursday coffee and doughnut tradition at the veterans center illustrated these American heroes' valor, kindness and, in many cases, keen sense of humor.

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However, whether the U.S. Marine Corps, Army, Air Force or, in the case of Veterans Coalition member Curt Walden, all three, each veteran still fought their own inward battles.

"It is very hard to address, and because of that I got a divorce due to my PTSD (Post Traumatic Stress Disorder) that I did not know I had," Walden, who served two 18-month tours in Iraq as a medevac, said.

"For me, asking for help was the hardest part, but once I asked for that help and I got it, it was fulfilling."

As a medevac, Walden recounted tragic memories that caused him to go down a dark path, ripe with suicidal thoughts.

"Everyone has their own image in their mind of what combat is going to be like. I was not part of busting down doors. Mine was the mop up of the aftermath of a firefight," Walden explained.

The veteran's voice gets shaky when he described witnessing a husband and wife being killed by an airstrike. The horror did not end there, either, as the couple's 3-year-old daughter also sustained a gunshot wound to the head.

"All of us stayed with the [3-year-old] until she passed; we did not want her to pass alone without anyone around her," Walden said. "The children were the hardest part."

At the time, Walden's son had also just been born, and because he was still serving his country overseas Walden could not see him.

"That put a lot on my psyche … It kind of scarred me … when I first came home hearing my son scream, it gave me instant flashbacks to that situation … that was really rough for me," Walden stated.

Today, he, along with his fellow veterans at the Western Slope Veterans Coalition continue to spread awareness by providing a hub for information, action, programs, and activities that support, honor and connect veterans in the Roaring Fork and Eagle valleys.

According to the most recent U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs study, approximately 20 veterans die by suicide every day in the United States.

The Veterans Coalition wants the public to know that help exists.

"One suicide is one too many," Walden added.

mabennett@postindependent.com