FRENCHTOWN – Montana has one of the highest veteran suicide rates in the country. There were 555 suicides in the state between 2014 and 2016, and 22% of those involved veterans.
Janna Sherrill started XSports4Vets as a doctoral project in 2010 in Missoula. It quickly grew to a nonprofit organization focused on veteran reintegration, PTSD treatment, and suicide prevention.
They get out all year round, doing things like skydiving, trike flying, and riverboarding. The group held an ice fishing competition at Frenchtown Pond on Sunday, complete with free lunch and an awards ceremony for the biggest fish.
Volunteer Jeremiah Mercer was deployed encourages other vets to get involved.
“It’s awesome. They say volunteering, look around. It’s not like this is really work. It’s fun, I enjoy doing it. It gets me together with a bunch of other vets around here and gets me out of the house.”
More than 11% of Montana’s adult population are veterans, according to the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs — almost double the national average.
XSportsVets Co-director Anton Johnson served in Afghanistan from 2004 until 2005.
“A lot of veterans, after they get out of service, they kind of spread to the wind so they don’t have the support that they do while they’re serving,” Johnson said.
“So they kinda have to form a new community once they get out and, extreme sports and different activities can really help build that bond and help them reconnect with their community,” he added.
The group has more outdoor events this spring, and hundreds are expected to show up for their annual veteran suicide awareness and prevention run on April 20.
If you or someone you know may be at risk of suicide, contact theNational Suicide Prevention Lifeline at 1-800-273-8255.