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WWI Memorial raises suicide awareness

Posted at 1:51 PM, May 27, 2018
and last updated 2018-05-27 14:51:42-04

KANSAS CITY, Mo. - Some soldiers can make it through mine fields in Iraq or Afghanistan, but have a much harder fight here at home.

PTSD and depression can make reintegrating into life in the states difficult.

This memorial day weekend, the World War I Museum is shining light on an exhibit about veteran suicide rates.

140 American flags wave in front of the memorial, one for each veteran life lost to suicide each week.

The display is called the Flags of Forgotten Soldiers.

Volunteers at various veteran groups outside the museum know one Navy veteran who served in Iraq, who fits the build.

"We had a gentleman who used to come out here every year. We called him Squirrel," said Arnold Swift, who is an Army staff sergeant veteran.  "He gave up the fight."

Benjamin Kelley, 40, was his real name.  Friends said he was fast and that's where his nickname came from.

They said he got into a fight with a family member before taking his own life in March of 2017.

Kelley had a passion for volunteering and helping vets with PTSD and those who were mobility-challenged.

"He could help everyone but himself," explained Swift.

Sadly, Kelley is not alone.

The Department of Veterans Affairs collected this data from 1979 to 2014:
•         Findings show there is variability across the nation in the rates and numbers of deaths by suicide among Veterans. Overall, the Veteran rates mirror those of the general population in the geographic region, with the highest rates in Western states. While we see higher rates of suicide in some states with smaller populations, most Veteran suicides are still in the heaviest populated areas.
•         The suicide rate among middle-age and older adult Veterans remains high. In 2014, approximately 65 percent of all Veterans who died by suicide were age 50 or older.
•         After adjusting for differences in age and sex, risk for suicide was 22 percent higher among Veterans when compared to U.S. non-Veteran adults. After adjusting for differences in age, risk for suicide was 19 percent higher among male Veterans when compared to U.S. non-Veteran adult men. After adjusting for differences in age, risk for suicide was 2.5 times higher among female Veterans when compared to U.S. non-Veteran adult women.

"When some can't get the support they need, they take their own lives at the rate of 20 a day," explained Matthew Naylor, President and CEO of the WWI Museum.

Many of the groups outside of the WWI Museum offer help for veterans, to help them cope with daily stress.

Swift hopes anyone who needs help would come and visit with those who know what it's like to serve.

"What people fail to understand is, it not only affects the person who has it, it affects a whole family," said Swift.

Veterans who are in crisis or having thoughts of suicide, and those who know a Veteran in crisis, can call the Veterans Crisis Line for confidential support 24 hours a day, seven days a week, 365 days a year. Call 800-273-8255 and press 1, chat online at, or text to 838255.