JACKSONVILLE, Fla. — After decades of awareness and a strong effort by the Department of Veteran Affairs, veterans taking their own lives remains a problem.
The reported number of veteran suicides stands at 20 per day nationwide.
"It is really hard for us to ask for help," said Greg Wells.
Wells, an Army veteran, was in that dark lonely place.
"At that point, it was really bad for me," he said. "It was bad for my family. It was one of the lowest points I have ever experienced."
Wells served 16 months on the front line and said when he came home, he felt like he had no sense of purpose.
"I have lost friends from suicide," Wells said. "I have lost friends in combat, but taking my whole sense of purpose -- that was demoralizing."
He would be diagnosed with PTSD and a traumatic brain injury and was forced to take, at one time, 14 pills a day to control his behavior.
But now he is doing much better. He said his biggest help was a service animal. Wells now works with other post-9/11 veterans at K9s For Warriors.
"This is suicide problem is a big problem," Wells said.
A problem Jacksonville City Councilman Rory Diamond wants to change. The CEO of K9s for Warriors has made it his priority during his first term on the city council.
"We're spending billions in Washington and not a single community has made a dent," he said.
Diamond said his approach is not a silver bullet but by working with the surrounding Northeast Florida counties, he aims to put a dent into the problem.
"Veteran suicide prevention is one-on-one," Diamond said. "We're going to bring veterans in to help other veterans and it is going to be building trust, building friendships, and that's how we are going to stop someone in crisis."
He said there are 100,000 veterans in Northeast Florida. While his effort is still in the conceptual stages, Diamond said he is confident it will work.
"We got to go right here, right now to save our warriors," he said.
His goal is to have the program up and running before Veterans Day.
Wells is ready to support the effort.
"If we get it down to 19 a day that's a win," said Wells. "If you can get it down to 15 a day even better. Ultimately zero is what we want, but it is hard to do that."
Both men say, in the meantime, if a veteran finds himself in that dark lonely place, pick up the phone and call the Veteran Suicide Hotline. Help is available.
VETERAN'S CRISIS HOTLINE
1-800-273-8255 (PRESS 1)