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story.lead_photo.caption Marc Mero Photo by Submitted photo

Suicide is a hard subject to discuss.

However, the Missouri Veterans of Foreign Wars has tagged a former professional wrestler to jump in the ring to take on the subject of suicide prevention.

The VFW has scheduled a Jan. 31 event for veterans, local youth and their families to talk about the struggles associated with suicide.

The community outreach event, which is coinciding with the annual VFW winter council meeting at Capitol Plaza Hotel, will feature Marc Mero, a former WWE wrestler who is now an author and speaker. Mero will speak at 7 p.m. in the hotel's main ballroom about his experiences and how he got through his trials to go on to achieve success in life. Doors open at 6 p.m. for pre-seating.

"We got with a couple of VFW posts in the surrounding areas and were able to get grants approved from our national headquarters to allow Marc to come out to talk to students at Fatima High School and Eugene High School, at no costs to the schools," said Nicole Slusser, VFW state office manager, who has worked to put these events together. "With the number of veteran suicides going up and teen suicides having tripled in recent years, it's a big issue in the Jefferson City area.

"I saw studies that show teenagers are now dealing with post-traumatic stress disorder after events such as tornadoes, flooding and losing housing, which we have seen a lot of in the last year in our community," Slusser said. "Marc has lived the life and struggle, and if you can hear from someone that's been through it, I think that makes the message so much stronger."

Organizers are hoping for a large crowd for the event.

"We have seating for 1,000 for this event, and we want to fill them all up," said Don Hentges, Jefferson City Veterans Council president.

"Our goal is, if we save one life, it's well worth the time and money we've spent putting this together," Hentges said. "We had a student at Helias recently commit suicide, and nationally, there's 22 veterans a day who commit suicide. This is an event we want whole families to come to.

"I had a good friend who served in Vietnam who committed suicide a few years ago," he added. "If I had to pick somebody who was going to do that, I would have never picked this guy."

Slusser said: "In my senior year of high school, one of my friends committed suicide, and I wondered what I could have done to help them. If we can keep others from wondering, 'What should I have done,' this will have been a success."

"Too often, we don't want to talk about these types of things because we don't want to admit it's a problem. But I think it's time we reach out and address it," Hentges said.

Before the suicide prevention event, from 3-6 p.m., the VFW will have people in the hotel's Carnegie Room who can help with VA claims. Slusser said you do not have to be a VFW member to get this assistance.

"As long as you are a veteran, you can come, and it's free of charge," Slusser said. "Oftentimes, when you get into the VA Hospital in Columbia or elsewhere it's good to have someone on your side. We don't make any money off this."

Slusser said many people don't know they are entitled to these benefits.

"The older generation of veterans can be stubborn about filing for benefits so if they don't want to file for themselves, we ask that they file for their families because there are benefits that can help them such as in-home care," she said.

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