INDIANAPOLIS — It's a difficult reality for veterans who make the challenging transition to life after deployment.
"I lost 24 friends in combat. And I found out recently that I had since lost more to the war at home and the war within, to suicide," said Doug Chace, a retired Major and Service Officer at Post 522. "So, I've lost 24 to combat and 28 to suicide."
September is Suicide Prevention Awareness Month and local veterans want to help save more lives by sharing the resources that are available through the VA to support service members and their families.
WRTV spoke with veterans about the recent spike in crisis calls, especially since the military withdrawal from Afghanistan. It's been triggering for some members of the military.
"I was there first in 2002 in what we call OEF1, or Operation Enduring Freedom," Chace said. "We built everything from the ground up."
Chace served three deployments during the 20 year-long war in Afghanistan.
"My last tour was in 2013," Chace explained. "During that, we were trying diligently to start handing over the responsibility of protecting the area and the citizens to the Afghan forces."
This week, he watched along with the rest of the world as the United States withdrew from Afghanistan.
"We see the way that things are being handled over there with just this, what appears to be from the outside looking in, an uncoordinated evacuation," Chace said. "All the things that are being left undone and some of the promises that we as a nation made for these people that are being left unfulfilled are very, very challenging. The best word I could come up with is that it's frustrating because it wasn't supposed to be like this."
The end of the war in Afghanistan is now sending a shock wave of emotions through veterans like Chace.
"The last time I had a triggering event, I was actually driving," he explained. "I had a flashback and PTSD kicked in. I had to just pull over on the side of the road until I could function which way out and I was very close to that this goes around."
Paul Norton with the American Legion said that since the withdrawal, the VA crisis line has seen a huge spike in calls from veterans.
"I'm getting phone call from veterans right now going back from Vietnam who are experiencing similar traumas in their mind of what they experienced when they came back from 'Nam," Norton said. "I'm too, experiencing some of that. There's a lot of deep sadness, there's a lot of anger, a combination of a lot of emotions hitting us all at once."
Chace added that it can be a challenge for veterans to take the first step toward getting mental healthcare.
"For a lot of post-9/11 veterans, we grew up in an environment where seeking mental health help had a tremendous stigma," Chace explained. "There was an air that reaching out for help and asking for help was a sign of weakness."
That's why Chace, and other veterans are doing all they can to help turn things around. They're encouraging those who serve and protect our country to change the narrative and show their bravery by seeking the proper help they deserve.
"We're definitely committed," said Mark Gullion, State Commander for The American Legion Department of Indiana. "Right now, there's approximately 22 veterans a day taking their life by suicide. The American Legion is going above and beyond to help our veterans, trying to get the word out and trying to get them to the VA hospital."
"We did all of these different things, but for what? Did it matter? One of the things I've been telling my friends is that what you did matter," Chace said. "You did it honorably, you supported the nation, you helped other people. Not just that, but you matter."
The VA crisis line connects veterans, families, and friends with qualified VA responders 24 hours a day, seven days a week. The best way to reach them is by calling 1-800-273-8255 or text 838255. For more information, visit veteranscrisisline.net/chat.