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Tampa Memorial Day service to recognize veterans who died by suicide

"It gives [families] the OK to talk about it and not feel stigmatized," Tony Williams, president of Veterans Counseling Veterans, said.

TAMPA, Fla. — This Memorial Day weekend, we remember and honor the men and women of the U.S. military who died in service. For the ninth annual year, Veterans Helping Veterans will hold a ceremony specifically for families of service members who died by suicide.

The event is set to be held at the American Legion Post 5 in Tampa from 11 a.m. to 12:30 p.m. on Saturday, May 27. 

Tony Williams is the president of Veterans Counseling Veterans and has a background in mental health education and the military.

"It gives [families] the OK to talk about it and not feel stigmatized. They can say, 'Yes, my son or daughter died by suicide, but I still love them and they’re still a great person,'" explained Williams. 

Jeanette Nazario will be a keynote speaker at the ceremony. Nazario's son, Spc. Zachary C. Moore, died by suicide while he was stationed in South Korea with the Army in 2017.

Nazario said in the years after her son's death, she would feel the stigma of suicide while attending various ceremonial events. 

"Whenever we attend events and we stand up, we have a choice to say how our children died. I do stand up at various events in front of different organizations, and there is sometimes that awkwardness," Nazario explained. 

A Department of Defense report shows 519 service members died by suicide in 2021 alone.

Nazario hopes the countless people impacted by military suicides will honor their loved ones with pride this weekend. 

"We’re not trying to take anything away from those who died in combat. We’re only trying to recognize they also died in service just as someone else would have died in service," said Nazario. "Be proud of your loved ones, stand up for them as they would stand up for you." 

The Veterans Counseling Veterans Ninth Annual Memorial Day Event at the American Legion Post 5 will also honor first responders who died by suicide this year. It is open to the public. 

If you're experiencing a mental health crisis, you can call 988 to reach the Suicide and Crisis Lifeline. If you call 988 and then press 1, you can be connected to a crisis line specifically for veterans.

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