Suicide remains the second leading cause of death for veterans under the age of 45, and U.S. veterans are at an increased risk of suicide compared to other people. Amid this backdrop, many groups are working to help veterans heal and find help when in crisis. On Veteran Suicide Awareness Day, NewsNation’s special coverage is aimed at elevating the voices of veterans, their loved ones and caregivers fighting on the front lines at home.
(NewsNation) — “We trained and prepared to go to war, but when it was over, we just went home,” says Daniel Schnacky. He spent 3 1/2 years in active service and says his transition back to civilian life was “jarring.”
A group — Sheep Dog Impact Assistance — focused on helping veterans heal, build comradery and create a sense of belonging through outdoor programming and events became a lifeline for Schnacky as he readjusted to life at home.
If you or someone you know needs help, resources or someone to talk to, you can find it at the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline website or by calling 988 and pressing 1 for veterans. People are available to talk to 24/7.
For more information on resources available to veterans and the groups that participated in NewsNation’s coverage, click here.
Schnacky and another member, Ryan Ross, spoke to NewsNation about the impact of that bonding on their healing journeys since returning home.
These are their stories, in their own words.
These responses were collected from interviews over the phone and through email as well as from NewsNation’s coverage of suicide prevention efforts on Veterans Suicide Awareness Day. They have been edited for length and clarity.
Daniel Schnacky, Army SPC, 3 1/2 years active service
I served in the U.S. Army, stationed in Fort Polk, Louisiana, as part of the 4th Brigade, 10th MTN Division. I was assigned to a forward support battalion and deployed to Afghanistan in 2006. We were in the Ghazni Province of Afghanistan in the Hindu Kush near the border of Pakistan for five months. We came home and deployed not long after to Iraq and spent 14 months in Sadr City, Northeast Baghdad.
After getting out, I struggled with the transition back to civilian life. It was a truly jarring experience to just try to pretend like none of those things I went through had an impact. I felt alone a lot.
Combat is a difficult experience to navigate. It’s a difficult thing to come out of and try to live like you did before. We trained and prepared to go to war, but when it was over, we just went home. That’s what we all wanted, but it didn’t make it any easier to actually do. Add to that the fact that not everyone got to come home in the first place. There are so many complex emotions and struggles, and they all happen under the surface. Being able to navigate those struggles and talk with other veterans can truly save lives. I believe that the power of comradery and connection is a huge catalyst for preventing veteran suicide.
Sheep Dog is unique because of the variety of events and opportunities they offer. I’ve met so many other vets and shared struggles and breakthroughs alike all while shooting trap, skydiving, hunting, fishing, etc. I know a lot of other vets would benefit from the comradery that takes place inside this organization, and I know that was one huge piece missing when I got out of the service. Sheep Dog fosters relationships by uniting vets with common interests. I couldn’t be more thankful for the organization and what it means to me.
There’s these shared experiences that we do get to, you know, connect on, and it’s really what I view as the catalyst that has helped me turn around how I deal with my PTSD. You know, we need something to aim at, for lack of a better term, and really just the connections, and the events and the activities and stuff that Sheep Dog has really provided the opportunity for has been just remarkable.
Ryan Ross, Army National Guard SGT, 20 years of service
Sheep Dog is a great thing — the programs that they offer, the free events that they offer, the fishing, the hunting, rock climbing here at our college, local for my family and kids. It’s truly a great thing.
I think that the hardest thing is that you can talk to another veteran, but if they haven’t gone through what you went through, you don’t feel comfortable talking to them about that.
So being able to find somebody who has the same experiences as you, personally, I think is easier to talk to that person. Because when you want to talk about your past experience, if they haven’t experienced it, you don’t want to talk to them about it, because you’re gonna have to explain your feelings and what you went through.