In an effort to raise awareness of military suicides, a local group placed 23 pairs of combat boots on the lower mall of the Minnesota State Capitol last week.

The display was organized by a group called "Operation: 23 to Zero," a reference to the estimated 22 veterans and one service member who die by suicide each day.

Leaders of the organization say the effort, which began last year, not only raises awareness of military suicides for the general public but also reinforces to veterans and service members that there is help out there and that they are not alone.

"We've got a lot of folks who come to our events who have gone through dark times and have utilized certain resources or methods that have worked for them," said organizer David Peters.

"If they can share what works for them and if it works for somebody else, we'd definitely call that a win."

Across the country, the military has been wrestling with rising suicide rates among the Guard and Reserves for several years. Rates for both have run well above the general public.

The Pentagon reported this month that 265 active-duty service members killed themselves last year, continuing a trend of unusually high suicide rates in the U.S. military over the last seven years.

The number of active-duty personnel who died by suicide in 2015 declined slightly from the year before, but the reserve component, including the National Guard, saw a 23 percent increase.

The number of reserve component members who died by suicide — including those from the Army, Navy, Air Force and Marine Corps reserves as well as Air and Army National Guard troops — rose to 209 from a four-year low of 170 in 2014.

The numbers have resulted in a surprising yardstick. As an analysis by the San Antonio Express-News pointed out last week, the mounting toll of military suicides since 2003 has surpassed the number of troops that have been killed in Iraq.

The latest Pentagon statistics on suicides show a total of 4,839 from 2003 through 2015, according to the newspaper's analysis. In the same period, 4,496 American were lost serving in Iraq.

A recent two-year study from the Department of Veterans Affairs showed that nearly 14 percent of veterans reported suicidal thinking either at the beginning or end of a recent evaluation. By comparison, one 2011 study found that 3.7 percent of all U.S. adults reported having suicidal thoughts within the previous year.

Amid the renewed attention, the military and the VA still struggle to keep track of suicides and coordinate programs. Even obtaining accurate data has proved elusive.

A Defense Department inspector general report last year was critical of the Pentagon office that monitors the data, saying it lacked clear guidance and authority and had a confusing governing structure.

A VA Inspector General report released in February substantiated allegations that the VA's Veterans Crisis Line routed some calls to voice mail and that some staff did not receive adequate orientation or training.

The VA says it has since addressed the issues.

Another problem in tracking the military suicides, particularly for Guard and reserve members, may be found at the local level. When it comes to Guard and reserve suicides, state death certificates, for instance, do not generally note whether someone who has died by suicide is a member of the Guard, unless it is a primary occupation, which it often isn't.