Halloween celebration in Billings brings awareness to preventing veteran suicides

Posted at 6:10 PM, Nov 01, 2021
and last updated 2021-11-01 20:10:37-04

BILLINGS - The Bigfoot Scavenger Hunt provided some Halloween fun and most importantly it was opportunity to bring awareness about veteran suicide prevention.

The event started at noon on Saturday with a Facebook hint directing participants to the Department of Veteran Affairs in Billings.

After more hints and stops to get information about services available to veterans, it all ended at American Legion Post 4.

KTVQ photo

"The biggest thing about veterans suicide and suicide in general is people need to talk about how their mental health is more than what they have been," said Gil Floyd, American Legion Riders director.

"I was in the military for 21 years in the National Guard and over the course of the time, I've seen several soldiers that I knew that have committed suicide," said Wade Austin, a veteran who dressed up for Halloween and participated in the hunt. "And so definitely has hit home many times and it's not okay. We need to help take care of veterans."

American Legion post 4 membership coordinator for the event, James Hawkins organized the Bigfoot scavenger hunt in about five weeks.

"One of the things we're worried about and the reason why I got so aggressive with it is because of the way the (Afghan) war ended, it's actually caused an increase in suicide rate," Hawkins said. "Everything that they risked their lives for and saw their friends die for, all of a sudden one day it was right back where they started, and they didn't really see it that they achieved anything and it's having a very strong mental effect on our soldiers."

Hawkins is a veteran and says suicides have increased partly because of the U.S. getting out of Afghanistan and because veterans come home with what he calls moral injury.

"It has to do with morality," Hawkins said. "If you do something over there that goes against your Christian beliefs, or against women, when you come back, you have this moral injury in your mind that hurts you bothers you."

Dog Tag Buddies provides veterans with a dog companion or service dog and was one of the 12 stops on the scavenger hunt geared toward veterans.

"It's huge that we have so many veteran organizations in the community that are all working towards a common cause," said Kati Grove, Dog Tag Buddies operations director.

"Very important," Suzette Frank, who participated in the hunt, said about helping veterans. "We need to watch keep after them and help them out into where possible. They've done a lot for us."

"This American Legion Post 4 is going to push every year to try to get those numbers turned around and involve the community," Hawkins said.