Veterans garden looks to give hope and prevent suicide

Local

Forty-five thousand people over the age of ten took their own lives in 2016, according to the CDC.

The suicide rate for veterans is alarming.

One family, who has experienced that tragedy first-hand, has teamed up on a special space at the Wichita VA to raise awareness.

The Memorial Peace Garden at the Robert J. Dole VA Medical Center is a place of healing and hope for veterans.

But for Laura Nutter, the serene landscape has an even more significant meaning, as it helps honor her late father Don Kolar, who served in the U.S. Air Force. 

“My dad passed away from suicide in 2011,” she said. “That was in February in the dead of winter. And, it was a very shocking circumstance.”

Kolar is one of about 22 veterans a day who lost their lives to suicide.

After his death, Nutter wanted to remember her father with the hobby he enjoyed the most, gardening.

“Dad used to drive around with boxes of produce in his backseat and he spent a lot of time out in his garden,” said Nutter. “He spent a lot of time out in his lawn chair watching it grow.”

Kolar won’t be able to do that anymore, but Nutter believes it’s not too late for others. 

Iraq War Veteran Dean Rhein is glad that message is being shared, as someone who is a survivor of suicide himself. 

“I think it’s the trauma that we go through,” he said. “I think it’s the losses we go through. It’s hard to bear that. And, it’s hard to really be in society.”

That’s why Nutter hopes the garden provides veterans with a different type of escape, a place where they can come together, get produce, enjoy the beauty, and surround themselves with rocks painted with words of encouragement.

“It’s been a very healing process for me getting you know past the negative event of my dad’s death and trying to go forward with a positive result,” said Nutter.

There will be a mental health summit at the Wichita VA Friday. 

It will be from 8:30 to 4 in the auditorium and is open to the public. 

For anyone who has thoughts of suicide, you can contact the national suicide prevention lifeline: 1-800-273-8255.

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