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23 Pairs Of Empty Boots: A Reminder Of Military Suicides

MINNEAPOLIS (WCCO) - If you visit the Minnesota Capitol this week, you will see a poignant reminder of the devastating problem of military suicides.

Local veterans have places 23 pairs of boots on the Capitol steps to symbolize the number of active duty troops and veterans who take their lives each day.

The veterans are hoping the boots will inspire lawmakers to provide mental health resources and that they will inspire veterans and active duty soldiers alike to get help.

"This is a very visible spot, not only for the general public but also for the lawmakers," Marine Corps veteran David Peters said. "This is a big issue."

Peters saw active duty in Africa and Afghanistan. His group, Operation 23 to Zero, is trying to raise awareness that an average of one active duty soldier and 22 veterans take their lives each day.

"That figure is unacceptable," Peters said.

He said he got counseling for post-traumatic stress.

"It helped, so we are out here to encourage others to get help that is needed," he said.

But he said for soldiers with more serious problems, treatment is often inadequate.

"Everyone is wired differently," he said. "Everyone has a different reaction to the meds that they are prescribing, and there is no  follow-up to make sure they are correct and that they are, in fact, working."

"Some of the boots here belong to soldiers who did take their lives, like the pair that belonged to Sgt. Jon Miller from Burnsville."

Bob Leslie, a veteran of Desert Storm brought Miller's boots to the Capitol steps. Miller's mother is a friend of Leslie's.

"It's important to get the word back to them that if they need help, we're here," he said.

Leslie worries this is a problem that could get worse.

"There will be a lot more boots," he said. "We've got to stop it. Somehow we've got to reach out and stop it."

Operation 23 to Zero, the local veterans group, is still in the process of getting its non-profit status, but the group does have a Facebook page that provides information about were veterans can get help.

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