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Student veterans at Gardens college unite to end 22-a-day suicide rate

When Jason Keating first returned home from serving in Afghanistan with the Marines, he sat in his car between classes because he wasn’t ready to be around people.

Aaron Weinberg’s hands still shake furiously when he sits with his back to a plate glass window — one of the Army man’s fears since returning from two tours of duty in Afghanistan.

Whether it’s coping with the horrific loss of life they saw in combat or something as mundane as understanding the GI Bill benefits, the leaders of the Student Veterans Organization at Palm Beach State College want their fellow veterans to know they’re not alone.

The organization is hosting a 2.2-mile walk around the college’s campus starting 2:30 p.m. Nov. 10 at the traffic circle by the Bioscience Building on the Gardens campus, 3160 PGA Blvd., to raise awareness of the estimated 20 to 22 veterans who die by suicide every day.

“Everybody deals with something different. Psychologically, it’s damaging,” said Weinberg, the organization’s president. “It’s not like playing a video game. It’s not like watching a movie. It’s real life.”

Young veterans trying to go to school and work and catch up on lost time with their families tend to struggle the most, said William “Patch” Paczkowski, the organization’s faculty advisor and a business and entrepreneurship professor who served in the Army JAG Corps.

When they get home, veterans have a difficult time communicating to the civilian world how their skills translate. They’re searching for a sense of purpose.

“That’s where the struggle is,” said Keating, the veterans resource advisor and a current student.

There are about 100 full-time students at the Gardens campus receiving GI Bill benefits and about 630 across all Palm Beach State campuses, Paczkowski said.

Paczkowski, Weinberg and Keating could all recall at least one military colleague who took his or her life. They don’t want anyone to get to that point. Part of the problem is that there’s not enough support, Weinberg said.

Department of Veterans Affairs responders handle calls to a confidential crisis hotline: 1-800-273-8255.

Students can drop by the Veterans Resource Center on the second floor of the campus library to connect with other veterans, sit in a secluded space between classes or connect with the resources available to them.

“It’s not shameful in here,” for veterans to talk about what they’re experiencing, Weinberg said.

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