Veteran suicide awareness on display at Minnesota State Capitol

April 19, 2019 06:22 PM

On the steps of the Minnesota State Capitol Friday, 100 pairs of military-style boots sat staggered, each holding a flower and an American flag.

The boots belong to veterans who died by suicide. They also represent the number of veterans nationally who take their own life every week.


On average, 19 veterans and one active duty military member die by suicide each day, according to the latest statistics from the Department of Veteran Affairs.

In an effort to raise awareness, the group "Operation 23 to 0" displayed the boots all week, each day increasing the number by 20.

"When we started this, myself and a couple others got sick of losing friends," said founder David Peters, a veteran himself. "It started affecting all of us and we got together and decided that we were going to be there for each other and take care of each other."

Peters said in his research, he's found a lack of resources for veterans.

"Folks are not being taken care of by the 'system,'" he said. "There's not a lot of resources that are effective in what they can do, and the ones that are, are swamped."

Peters said that's why his organization focuses so much on outreach and awareness.

The families of the veterans also make it their mission to help others who are struggling.

Stacey Burnham lost her daughter Nicole in January 2018, when the Army private from Minnesota died by suicide at her base in Colorado.

"When I look at this display I think, this many veterans have taken their lives in just one week?" Burnham said. "That's just an epidemic."

Failing Private Burnham: How the Army did not protect a Minnesota soldier after a sexual assault

Nicole's death was the focus of a 5 EYEWITNESS NEWS investigation. Military records revealed Nicole was sexually assaulted. An internal investigation into her death detailed a series of failures, inactions and policy violations that could have save her life.

Stacey Burnham said giving Nicole's story a voice means others will hear it and hopefully find help.

"Although it's too late for Nicole, it might not be too late for somebody else," she said.

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Kirsten Swanson

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