Lorain County’s Labor Day Festival, which will be held on Sept. 4 at Black River Landing in Lorain, will feature food from local vendors and live music. But the fete will also be a time to remember those whose service to their country was fraught with life-ending despair after returning home.

The Lorain County Veterans Service Commission is hosting the first-annual Race to End Veterans Suicide (REVS) 22K, which begins at 7:30 a.m.; and a 2.2-mile run-walk-ruck that starts at 9 a.m. All participants will receive a T-shirt and finisher medal, and proceeds will be donated to the nonprofit Emergency Veterans Support of Lorain County. The date also coincides with National Suicide Prevention Week, which takes place Sept. 4 through 10.

Dedicated to delivering help and information to veterans and their dependents and survivors, the Lorain County Veterans Service Commission provides transportation to VA medical appointments; helps with filing claims for financial assistance and benefits related to term of service; and recommends resources for mental health issues and employment opportunities.

“Last year, we provided $940,000 in financial assistance to the veterans of the county. That puts us in the elite of the state as far as financially assisting veterans,” says Lorain County Veterans Service Executive Director Jacob Smith, a former Army artilleryman whose 2000 to 2004 term-of service included 15 months in Iraq. “If there’s a way we can help a veteran, we do everything we can to do so. In many cases, what we do here helps save their life.”

That includes focusing attention on suicide prevention. According to a report issued by the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs, approximately 22 former members of the armed forces, on average, end their lives every day. According to statistics listed on the Ohio Veteran Suicide Data Sheet, 257 Ohioans were among those casualties in 2019.

“Veterans are more likely to commit suicide than their civilian counterparts,” Smith says. “Some take their own life because of personal issues. For others, it’s related to their time in service. Many see it as the only way out because they don’t see a solution to the problems they’re facing. It’s a real issue the VA is attempting to address. We hope the REVS events will raise awareness that assistance is available and that people do care about them.”

Lorain County Veterans Service Commission Service Officer Krystol Mayer helped launch the idea for the REVS Labor Day initiative in Lorain. The Navy veteran, who served as the female aircraft director on the flight deck of the USS Theodore Roosevelt during the first attacks in Afghanistan for Operation Enduring Freedom, understands the benefits movement brings.

“After leaving the service, I came to Cleveland where my husband is from, started a family and began attending college,” says Mayer, who participates in races that include the Cleveland Marathon. “It was a difficult transition, and running became an important stress-relieving outlet for me.”

Garry Gibbs, director of the Lorain County Visitors Bureau, hopes the 22K and 2.2-mile run-walk-ruck will become an annual event that will not only promote suicide prevention but also bring casualty numbers down.

“REVS will give our county a chance to shine,” he says, “and will serve as the spark plug for years to come.”