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Matt Prather, Mike Price and Kathy Matejka. The trio is journeying 3,400 miles through 11 states — Prather and Price on bicycles and Matejka driving their trailer. The team hopes to raise $1 million through the Blue Angels Foundation/Wounded Warrior Project Bike Ride Across America to combat veteran suicides.

When Matt Prather of Marietta learned about the shocking rate of suicide among veterans, he heeded the call to action.

Using his passion for biking, Prather, along with former Marietta resident Mike Price, is raising awareness and funds through the Blue Angels Foundation/Wounded Warrior Project Bike Ride Across America.

According to the Department of Defense, 20 veterans commit suicide every day.

“What’s staggering is that (veteran suicide) has been going on for years. We lose a lot more veterans to suicide than we lost to war, particularly since 9/11. We lose over 7,000 vets per year. We’re still losing a lot of Vietnam vets as of today as well as people who served across the world in all the different conflicts, including Afghanistan and Iraq,” Prather said.

Moved by the problem, Prather and Price departed from Santa Barbara, California, on Sept. 21 with a projected arrival in Charleston, South Carolina, on Nov 8. Also on the team is Kathy Matejka, who is the cyclists’ driver. The journey covers 3,400 miles through 11 states. The team hopes to raise $1 million.

“Because I didn’t serve in the military, I feel like that’s one of my regrets in life. This is one way of giving back. I feel like life is three chapters: Learn. Earn. And return. I’ve done the first two reasonably well. Now I want to push hard on returning back to my community and to those in need. I think this cause is a perfect contribution to doing something really bold,” Prather said.

Few people are aware of the veteran suicide statistics.

“More than 7,000 veterans are committing suicide every year. As a father, as a retired naval officer, I find that horrific. Most people don’t know that we’ve lost about 6,800 servicemen and women in combat since 9/11. We’re losing more people per year to suicide right here at home than we’ve lost in 18 years of combat,” said Mike Campbell, president of the Blue Angels Foundation, which supports wounded veterans.

Campbell said between 500,000 to 750,000 servicemen and women suffer from some level of Post Traumatic Stress and/or Traumatic Brain Injury.

“The line is long. The VA can’t handle that line. It’s just too long. It has been shown that if you can resolve a veteran’s PTS, it reduces the incidence of suicide,” Campbell said. “In my opinion, it’s a national crisis. What’s happened to these people is that they have lost hope. These people have just lost hope.”

Organizations like the BAF provide funding for wounded warriors and their continuum of care such as transition housing, education, networking for employment and resolving PTS.

The Blue Angels Foundation Bike Ride Across America will raise awareness about the veteran suicide problem as well as funding that will benefit the Warrior Care Network — Emory Veteran’s Center, Mass General’s Home Base, Rush Medical and UCLA, which all provide evidenced-based PTS protocol that helps resolve their PTS and saves lives.

Contributions will be matched up to $1 million by BAF with 100% of donations benefiting the Warrior Care Network.

If you are moved to honor the 20 wounded veterans that we will lose to suicide today, consider making a donation of $20 (or more) at: https://communityfundraising.woundedwarriorproject.org/index.cfm?fuseaction=donorDrive.personalCampaign&participantID=1204.

Follow the journey at:

♦ Twitter: @BafWwp

Sally Litchfield is a longtime Marietta resident. She has written for the MDJ since October 2000. Send Sally news at sallylit@bellsouth.net. Call Sally at 404-713-7318.

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