Former Marine walks barefoot to seek counseling for veterans

CARSON CITY -- Puzzled state employees watched Monday as a barefoot man wearing a "18 Vets A Day Commit Suicide" billboard walked into the state Capitol.

U.S. Marine veteran Ron Zaleski had hoped for a meeting with Gov. Brian Sandoval, but was told the governor was busy . Since beginning last June on the Old North Bridge in Concord, Mass., Zaleski has walked all across the country trying to drum up support for his petition to induce the federal government to give all service members five days of counseling before they are discharged.

"It's sad I have to do this," he said. "We prepare them to go overseas and kill, but don't get give them tools to cope when they are discharged."

He hopes to secure signatures of most governors on his petitions and present them to President Barack Obama on Nov. 11, his 59th birthday and the day World War I ended.

Zaleski said he spent two years in the Marines during the Vietnam War. He and five other members of his unit got in a quarrel with an officer who vowed they all would be sent quickly to Vietnam. He remained stateside, but the other five were killed or wounded in the war.

He then vowed to go without shoes the rest of his life. As the owner of a health club in Long Island, N.Y., Zaleski kept that vow, even walking the Appalachian Trial barefoot in 2006.

Sending soldiers to counseling before discharge could save money in the long run and save some from suicide, he said.

"They are human beings. They need our help for the next great job in life, that of a citizen and raising a family."