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Colorado Springs veteran hopes simple salute stops suicide

By: TONY PECK Special to The Gazette
October 28, 2017 Updated: November 1, 2017 at 5:20 pm
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Former Army Sgt. Juan Perez salutes the flag alongside the El Paso County Sheriff's Office deputies Thursday morning as part of the 22 Standing Campaign. The campaign runs for the 22 days leading up to Veterans Day to raise awareness of veteran suicides. (TONY PECK / SPECIAL TO THE GAZETTE)

Colorado Springs Army veteran Juan Perez hopes a simple gesture can stop some of his comrades from taking their own lives.

Amid a three-week crusade, the former sergeant stood outside the El Paso County Sheriff's Office and saluted the flag for 2 minutes and 22 seconds. He plans on continuing the ritual at sites around the Pikes Peak region for 22 days, symbolizing the average daily number of veterans who commit suicide.

"Don't ever think that your life is insignificant," Perez said after the salute.

Perez is assistant director for the local branch of the Coalition to Salute America's Heroes, a nonprofit that seeks to honor veterans and troops.

The Michigan native is no stranger to veteran advocacy.

After suffering a traumatic brain injury, vision loss, shoulder injuries, and post-traumatic stress disorder, Perez was honorably discharged from the Army without compensation equal to his wounds.

In 2008, Perez was one of five plaintiffs that filed a class-action lawsuit against the Army.

The lawsuit covered the Army denying veterans suffering from post-traumatic stress disorder the full 50 percent disability they were entitled.

The outcome resulted in a Defense Department order that the Army increase the disability rating for many veterans who were discharged with PTSD.

On Thursday, Perez was on the sixth day of the campaign.

The salutes started at Memorial Park on Saturday and will end on Veterans Day.

According to a 2016 Department of Veteran Affairs report, veterans accounted for 18 percent of U.S. suicides, with over 7,400 veterans taking their lives in 2014.

Perez and his wife, Christy, arrived at the Sheriff's Office on Thursday as a team, fussing over his uniform as he got out of their truck.

"Colorado Springs is where he separated," Christy Perez said. "We like it here and want to help where we can."

Sheriff Bill Elder and several deputies joined Perez for the salute.

As the Sheriff's Office formed up, Perez stood at attention in his Army dress blue uniform.

As the flag was raised, Perez and the formation saluted for the duration.

After the ceremony, Sheriff Elder shook Perez's hand and quietly thanked him.

Perez said there are plenty of resources to help veterans through life's struggles. The strongest resource may be other veterans who can understand the challenges of life after war.

"Reach out to us," he said. "You have a purpose."

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