VIRGINIA BEACH, Va. - Even on our home soil, many veterans continue to fight, but they are not fighting a foreign enemy, they are fighting their own mental health.
According to the Department of Veterans Affairs, 17.2 veterans dies by suicide each day. After serving in the military for more than two decades Chad Wilkinson, a Navy SEAL from Virginia Beach, died by suicide.
"Chad was the love of my life, he was a really good SEAL, he was a well-respected operator," said his Gold Star wife, Sara Wilkinson. "It doesn't care which branch of service, what rank, what gender, suicide is affecting our veterans."
In his honor, on Saturday morning, Chad's community stepped up one thousand times over. Close to 200 people completed the CHAD 1,000x.
"CHAD 1,000X is 1,000 box step-ups with a 45 lb pack. It's what he did to train for mountains. The last one that he did was Cerro Aconcagua and it's the highest summit in South America. But he would do this workout consistently in our garage just strengthening his legs. He didn't want to be the last guy up the mountain, he didn't want to let down his team," said Sara.
In its second year, the CHAD 1,000x is about more than just putting one foot in front of the other.
Sara said, "You'll notice that people will talk, laugh, and joke and usually about the first 200 to 400. Once 500 hits people stop talking and I think that's a really good symbolism for what happens inside of us when we have a mental struggle: people tend to get quiet and they retreat, so I think the workout pairs beautifully with supporting veterans and their mental health."
By Sara's side on Saturday was Sydney Mulder, also a Gold Star wife of a decorated Navy SEAL.
"Sara and I became very fast friends because my husband Bill died by suicide a year before her husband," she said. "You didn't look at them and think something was physically wrong or ailing them but that invisible wound was so, so deep."
It's the invisible wounds that call on all of us to step up, be mindful with our words and look for warning signs.
"If you know a veteran and something in your gut just seems off and they don't seem right you should ask them, you should reach out and show genuine concern," Sara said. "I would also like to change the narrative that we don't say commit suicide. I want to erase that from language. People don't commit heart attacks, people don't commit cancer, people die by suicide."
The Hampton VA Medical Center offers a variety of different resources for mental health and suicide prevention.
There’s also the 24/7 Veterans Crisis Line that can be reached by calling 1-800-273-8255 (press 1).