Sometimes you just have to do something — anything — to get people’s attention.
Jeremy Staat and Wesley Barrientos, veterans of the Iraq War, have been consumed by that feeling for months now. They’re proud of their military service and proud of their fellow veterans — but they’re also alarmed by the jump in suicides among U.S. veterans and service members during the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan. They’re so concerned, in fact, that they plan to embark Sunday on a cross-continental bicycle ride to call attention to it.
The U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs estimates that a veteran dies by suicide every 80 minutes. That’s an annual death toll of about 6,500 — more than all the U.S. military casualties in Iraq and Afghanistan since those conflicts began.
“We need more support for our nation’s veterans,” said Staat, 35, a U.S. Marine veteran and retired NFL player who lives in Bakersfield, Calif. “They deserve our gratitude, and they should get the help they need.”
Staat began brainstorming ways to draw attention to veterans’ issues last summer with his buddy Barrientos, a U.S. Army veteran and double amputee who lost both his legs to a roadside bomb in Iraq in 2007.
“We thought, ‘OK, we can’t run across the country like Forrest Gump, but what can we do?’ ” Staat said. “And then we came up with this: We can ride bicycles across the country!”