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Initiative aims to stop veteran suicides

Veteran suicide rates are still higher than the rest of the population. (U.S. Army Reserve/Released)

Michele Ladd has seen how combat can impact a person after her oldest son returned from a tour of duty in Iraq with his Marine Corps unit.

“He was not himself,” she said. “He’s had a real tough time. He’s got those invisible wounds.”

Ladd realized there are many other veterans like her son who are struggling physically and psychologically with their combat experiences, so she decided to go on the road to create more awareness about how to help veterans.

She owns a large RV painted in patriotic colors with pictures of veterans from all eras and branches of service. She has spent more than 80 percent of her time on the road, where she has logged more than 65,000 miles in the past three years visiting American Legion chapters, veterans’ organizations and support groups. Her goal is to spread the message about available resources for PTSD, suicide prevention, mental health and addiction recovery.

She has driven as far as California to meet with veterans, and she has been recording their experiences. She has also met mothers who lost their sons to suicide after they returned home.

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Ladd said she plans to hit the road once the COVID-19 social distancing restrictions are lifted. She plans to drive through Florida before eventually ending up in Rochester, N.Y., where she began her efforts to support veterans with the initiative 22 to Zero. The name comes from the fact that 22 veterans commit suicide every day, and the goal is to reduce that number to zero,

By design, Ladd said she has kept a low profile since moving to St. Marys three years ago. But with the high number of veterans in the region, that’s going to change soon.

“I’m ready to start getting more involved in our community,” she said. “It’s a tribute to our veterans.”

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