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Utah veteran seeks to stop soldier suicides

Published: Monday, Aug. 31 2015 3:58 p.m. MDT

David Waters, a Utah Navy veteran, struggles with severe depression, and hes finding comfort in helping other vets. He wants to host a national movie event on Veterans Day, Nov. 11.  On his West Valley City lawn are 22 headstones with accompanying American flags, which represent a veteran who will commit suicide on any given day. (Stuart Johnson, Deseret News) David Waters, a Utah Navy veteran, struggles with severe depression, and hes finding comfort in helping other vets. He wants to host a national movie event on Veterans Day, Nov. 11. On his West Valley City lawn are 22 headstones with accompanying American flags, which represent a veteran who will commit suicide on any given day. (Stuart Johnson, Deseret News)

WEST VALLEY CITY — David Waters, a Navy veteran, struggles with severe depression, but he’s finding comfort in helping other veterans.

Each day in the U.S., 22 veterans and one active military member commit suicide, according to the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs.

"Those numbers have been slowly growing over the past few years," Waters said.

Seventy percent of those who committed suicide are 50 years old and older, so it's not a problem isolated to the new generation of veterans returning from wars in Iraq and Afghanistan.

In Utah, 17 veterans committed suicide in the past year, and 150 veterans on average are on the department's high-risk list for suicide in the state.

David Waters, a Utah Navy veteran, struggles with severe depression, and hes finding comfort in helping other vets. He wants to host a national movie event on Veterans Day, Nov. 11.  On his West Valley City lawn are 22 headstones with accompanying American flags, which represent a veteran who will commit suicide on any given day. (Stuart Johnson, Deseret News) David Waters, a Utah Navy veteran, struggles with severe depression, and hes finding comfort in helping other vets. He wants to host a national movie event on Veterans Day, Nov. 11. On his West Valley City lawn are 22 headstones with accompanying American flags, which represent a veteran who will commit suicide on any given day. (Stuart Johnson, Deseret News)

As Waters battles his own depression demons, he decided to tackle the tough topic of military suicide by hosting a national movie event.

Veterans Day is less than two weeks away, and Waters wants the Megaplex Theatre at The District, 11400 S. Bangerter Highway, South Jordan, to be part of that national event. On Monday, movie theatres across the country will show the film "Happy New Year."

"I want to raise awareness and show support," Waters said as he stood among headstones in an elaborate display on his West Valley City lawn.

Waters is a disabled veteran who has suffered from chronic depression for nearly two decades. The 22 headstones and accompanying American flags on his lawn represent veterans who will commit suicide each day.

Waters said he has attempted suicide several times and still has those impulses. But he has chosen many times not to kill himself.

"During a month, there might be four or five times where I struggle all day long with it," he said.

Waters receives treatment at the Veterans Medical Center in Salt Lake City, but medication doesn't seem to help much, he said, and his depression is not going away. So he decided he would focus on helping others.

K. Lorrel Manning, director of “Happy New Year,” said the movie is not a documentary.

"It is a narrative feature inspired by the real lives and experiences of those brave men and women who served their country and have since returned in desperate need of our help," Manning said on the film's website. "The time is now.”

On the movie’s website, "Happy New Year" is described as “a hard-hitting portrait of the human cost of war, the ‘living dead,’ who are not counted among the casualties on the battlefield. It is a universal story focusing on a group of men struggling with life after trauma.”

“It will get people out there aware that there is a problem with our veterans committing suicide,” Waters said.

Waters said he needs to get enough advance support through presale of tickets to host the movie at The District. So far, ticket sales have reached one-third of the necessary goal for the showing. However, Waters said, he has a commitment from an anonymous donor to buy 37 tickets. Proceeds go toward Stop Soldier Suicide to build awareness nationwide. Tickets may be purchased by going to www.tugg.com/events/5973.

"(It's) probably one of the hardest movies I've ever seen," Water said.

The movie is rated R and includes military and adult themes, and rough language.

Waters said he knows his struggles are not over, and said he seeks the positive to keep himself stabilized.

“I've had to figure out a way for myself to be able to work through the depression and suicide issues," he said.

Contributing: Viviane Vo-Duc

Email: jboal@deseretnews.com

Copyright 2015, Deseret News Publishing Company