ST. PAUL, Minn. - Every day, about 20 veterans commit suicide in the United States, according to the Department of Veterans Affairs.
A Twin Cities-based nonprofit is putting that number into perspective in hopes of starting a larger conversation around military suicides.
"Operation: 23 to Zero" is hosting the event "Boots for the 20" at the Minnesota State Capitol this week. Every day, the group places 20 more boots on the steps of the Capitol building to represent the lives lost to suicide.
"There's a lot of stories to these boots," said David Peters, director of Operation: 23 to Zero.
Peters, who served 12 years with the U.S. Marine Corps, pointed to a pair of boots that belonged to Joel Costa. Costa, a Minnesota National Guard member, committed suicide in February.
"Yesterday we had a family come out and place their son's boots," he said.
This is the group's third year displaying boots at the State Capitol.
"If you look at the boots here... none are the same. They have blood, sweat, tears, oil, gas, mud on them. They have character," said Captain Michael Langr with the Iowa National Guard.
"I'm a 23-year veteran and this is something that hits close to me. I've lost friends and family members, fellow soldiers, to suicide... it's not a story that's told enough," Langr said.
By Friday, there will be 100 pairs of boots on display.
"I don't have all the answers. No one has all the answers. But the more people we can get thinking about it and talking about it, the better off it is for everyone," Peters said.
Langr added, "They're our brothers and sisters and it shouldn't happen."
"Boots for the 20" is free and open to the public through April 14 from 9 a.m. to 5 p.m.
For veterans in need of help, Operation: 23 to Zero has a list of resources here.