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Recovery ruck: East TN veteran and his service dog raise awareness for suicide prevention

One of Zimmerman's best friends, who also served with him in the Army, died by suicide after a battle with PTSD.

JOHNSON CITY, Tenn. — "I had this crazy idea," said Jay Zimmerman. That idea was to ruck across East Tennessee. The former Army sergeant and his service dog, Beau, will walk to a different location each day this week.

  • May 24 Davy Crockett Birthplace State Park, Limestone, TN
  • May 25 Veterans Memorial Park, Greeneville, TN
  • May 26 Newport City Park, Newport, TN
  • May 27 Patriot Park, Pigeon Forge, TN
  • May 28 Herbert Holt Park, Gatlinburg, TN

It's all to raise awareness for mental health and suicide prevention.

"This is my opportunity to let folks know, it's OK to talk about it, it's OK to seek out help. It doesn't mean that you're weak. It doesn't mean that you're broken," said Zimmerman. He also works as a community outreach specialist and certified peer counselor at the James H. Quillen VA Medical Center.

His goal is to reach the veteran population and beyond. The average number of suicide deaths per day within the general population is at 127.4 and among veterans, 17.6, according to the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs. The agency's last recorded data were in 2018.

One of Zimmerman's best friends, who also served with him in the Army, died by suicide after a battle with PTSD.

"I found myself in a pretty dark spot for a while too and fortunately, by the grace of God and with the help and support of the people around me, I did not wound up the same place my friend wound up," said Zimmerman.

So it's with great hope that Zimmerman can help forge conversations. "Ultimately, the goal would be to have those conversations in the front end, so that we are not having those conversations after tragic events occur," he said.

Each day during the ruck, there'll be a 1:30 p.m. town hall where you can meet Zimmerman and Beau. A team with the James H. Quillen VA Medical Center will also be there to support.

The pair departs for the ruck 6 a.m. on Monday, May 24 from the Johnson City/Washington County Veterans Memorial.

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