MAURY COUNTY, Tenn. (WRKN) — In Tennessee, three veterans die by suicide every week, according to data from the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs.
“You believe that’s all you are now is, ‘I’m a veteran with post traumatic stress.’ That’s it, you know? I’m broken,” said retired U.S. Army Special Forces Sgt. Jeremy Locke.
Locke nearly ended his life a few years ago when he retired from the Army and felt like he no longer had a mission.
“I was on all sorts of medication; I was drinking; there’s a lot of trauma that I never really processed through,” Locke said.
Locke and his wife, Britnie Turner, founded Nashville nonprofit Aerial Recovery. The group brings veterans together to heal and share their experiences, but also trains them to respond to global disasters.
“We take veterans and first responders through a healing program, and on the other side of that they become humanitarian special operators, responding to disasters all over the world,” said Turner.
Those disasters range from hurricanes, to flooding, to human trafficking.
“It is a no brainer to be investing in these people that have essentially thrown themselves away by believing these kinds of labels on their way out of transitioning out of the military,” Turner said.
Program participants said through Aerial Recovery, they get to do what they love in a new way.
“I’ve kind of found that continuation of my mission and purpose, just through, you know, just in a different venue. You know, still helping people, still utilize my skill set,” said volunteer Erik Estrada.
Experts who specialize in veteran mental health said the period after retirement can be a fragile one for soldiers coming home.
“You’re talking about going from dealing with a group and those individuals would give their lives for you to now living in the civilian space where one, you’re not familiar with the environment; you don’t feel like you’re part of a team anymore,” said Dr. Blas Villalobos, Centerstone CEO of Military Services.
Dr. Villalobos said what these veterans need is reassurance from loved ones that they are not alone.
Estrada said he has found that reassurance through Aerial Recovery, as well as a new mission and a new chance to be a hero.