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Gathering marks first observance of Veterans Suicide Prevention and Awareness Day in Minnesota

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Joseph Collova, a member of the Fort Snelling Memorial Rifle Squad
Joseph Collova, a member of the Fort Snelling Memorial Rifle Squad, plays taps at North St. Paul Veterans Park on Saturday to mark Minnesota's inaugural Veterans Suicide Prevention and Awareness Day.
Matt Sepic | MPR News

State leaders and relatives of veterans who died by suicide were among those who gathered Saturday in North St. Paul for the inaugural observance of Veterans Suicide Prevention and Awareness Day in Minnesota.

The state Legislature officially adopted the annual observance during last spring's session. It's set to take place on the first Saturday of October each year. About 100 veterans die by suicide each year in the state.

"If one veteran understands from what we have said that they are loved, and it saves their life, it honors our loss," said Alissa Harrington, whose brother Justin Miller fatally shot himself last year in the Minneapolis VA parking lot.

Harrington spoke to the crowd of several dozen people after the playing of taps at North St. Paul's Veterans Park, as a light drizzle fell. 

Miller was a 33-year-old Marine veteran of the Iraq War. Harrington told Saturday's gathering that in the wake of her brother’s death, she's made it her mission to make sure other veterans in need of help can get it.

"I have grown proud to wear the label of military suicide survivor, because it connects me with a group of advocates and family members who are working tirelessly to make sure the pain we feel is not felt by another family," she said.

Minnesota Lt. Gov. Peggy Flanagan said Saturday that the state Department of Veterans Affairs plans to hire a full-time staff member to focus on suicide prevention.