‘Walk the Bridge' Movement Works to Prevent Suicide Among First Responders and Veterans

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A group of North Texas veterans, first responders and their families are raising money to build a park honoring those who have died by suicide. They want more awareness, more resources to address work-related trauma and more support for families left behind.

"He always wanted to be a police officer," Susie Helms said, describing her late husband, Sgt. Guy Helms.

She said Sgt. Helms did what he loved for more than two decades, but she started to see signs he was struggling over the last few years.

"Things got, things got harder. Things started to change. And he said, I need help. He said I've been riding around in my truck trying to commit suicide," Helms said.

She said, when that happened, Rowlett police rushed to offer counseling and her husband took 13 days off from work, but he was still suffering. And in November of 2021, Sgt. Guy Helms died by suicide.

"I wish he had had more support, I wish we'd all had more support," she said.

Susie and their daughters, Lauren and Alyssa are joining Third Watch Law Enforcement Motorcycle Club and the Veterans Resource Outreach Center (VROC) in Rowlett to help more people get the mental health support they wish Sgt. Helms would have received.

Since 2018 and on the 22nd of each month veterans, active and retired first responders and their friends, families and local community members gather at the bridge at Highway 66 connecting Rowlett and Rockwall, now named Heroes Memorial Bridge for the #WalktheBridge movement. For two miles, they walk, share stories and discuss solutions.

Including more training for leaders on identifying the need for mental health support and addressing requests for help, paid time off for mental health care and ways to battle the stigma of asking for help.

The FBI just started accepting data on law enforcement suicide in January of 2022. The nonprofit BLUE H.E.L.P reports 239 officers died by suicide in 2019
The latest data from the department of veterans affairs shows 6,200 veteran suicides in 2019-roughly 17 each day

"I didn't realize how much I needed this," said Army Ranger Veteran Gabriel Kanawite.

Kanawite said he's been walking the bridge for four years, and it's saved and changed his life.

"Two of my relatives from where I'm from originally completed suicide. I attempted suicide twice. I also walk for all American Indians and every person of color who's ever served and sacrificed and died by their own hand." he said.

"There needs to be an overall change in, in what's done and how they handle it and how they classify it as PTSD," Helms said.

Helms hopes her husband's life and service inspires departments to address work-related stress sooner to prevent suicides.

"It's stuff that's in their head from work, you know, and so they go out and serve and protect everybody every day, and nobody serving and protecting them afterwards," she said.

And if a tragedy happens, she wants more support for surviving families.

In a rare move and one they're pushing to make standard across the board, Rowlett police classified Helms' death as a line of duty death. Allowing him to be buried with full honors and for his family to have access to death benefits. The Guns and Hoses foundation also

"They gave him the honors that he deserved. They stood guard over us stood to watch over us the first two weeks. They never left us," Helms said.

She and her family want anyone who's suffering to know they don't have to walk alone. On the 22nd of each month, you can make your way to Heroes' Memorial Bridge in Rowlett, where there are others ready to walk beside you on a path toward help and healing.

Senator John Cornyn from Texas co-sponsored a bill to help police officers seek disability benefits for PTSD and to give families death benefits if officers die by suicide. Local advocates with the VROC want the same for all first responders and are researching potential solutions with state lawmakers. You can find more on the bridge movement and park here.

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