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) — “He was married. He knew I was married. He knew my husband. It was just too much,” said Dianne Young, recalling the sexual trauma she experienced while a member of the Marines. She now helps others dealing with the same kind of trauma. 

Young is a coordinator with Healing Warrior Hearts, a retreat that allows veterans to share emotional wounds including sexual trauma. The group brings survivors together to build meaningful relationships and process the trauma participants experienced. 

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.

She works alongside Patricia Clason, the retreat’s founder, who first started working with Vietnam veterans in the 1990s in Wisconsin and has grown the organization to help vets across the country. 

They spoke to NewsNation about the healing process victims go through and how organizations like theirs break through to help veterans get the help they need.

These are their stories, in their own words.  

These responses were collected from interviews and emails with both Young and Clason as well as from NewsNation’s coverage of suicide prevention efforts on Veterans Suicide Awareness Day. They have been edited for length and clarity. 

Dianne Young, Marine Corps, Gunny retired (20 years) 

Courtesy: Dianne Young

I was at a unit party for a promotion. There’s typically a lot of drinking at these events; it’s expected that everybody’s going to be just trashed. And usually, that is OK and uneventful. In this case, it was not.

I don’t know what the sergeant major’s issue was, if this was premeditated, or if he was just really stupid drunk. But he had said some very offensive things to me in the first place. And I was responding very angrily and basically told him off, which is out of character, and certainly not acceptable in the Marine Corps either.

I attempted to go back to my room. I just was too drunk to defend myself when he followed me up to my room. And so he was able to rape me.

It made things really awkward trying to work for him the next day because we work together in the same office. And it was really weird because he acted like nothing happened. He had no idea, apparently, why I was so upset. I was truly beside myself. I couldn’t believe that that happened. 

I was very angry in general and had a very short fuse. I had created a very dysfunctional lifestyle of coping methods like drinking too much and too often, and gambling to numb out. I felt like I just didn’t fit in and really hit a low point when I was unjustly fired from a job I’d invested almost 10 years in. 

That’s really what led me to Healing Warrior Hearts because my friend recognized that I had a super short fuse. I was angry at the world. I was a real mess. I showed up to the retreat like this — arms crossed, the whole thing. But it really was a godsend.

I realized, ‘Wow, it’s not just me, you know.’ And as sad as you know, it is that this can happen. I was really kind of humbled when I realized how many other people in that room — about 15 people — had experienced the same or something similar. 

Patricia Clason, Founder of Healing Warrior Hearts

Courtesy: Healing Warrior Hearts

Everybody is taught we are there for each other. We are one unit, we are one body, we’ve got each other’s back. And so what happens is when someone experiences military sexual trauma that comes from another member of the military, there’s a huge betrayal there. 

It’s even harder when that person is an officer or a rank above you. That’s even more betrayal because these are the people who are supposed to be taking care of all of us.

A lot of vets need to know that what they have done is respected, that there’s no judgment about it and that they’re loved for who they are and the service that they gave.

The retreat includes information on how the brain, body and emotions work together and how trauma can affect one’s life. With this information, they realize they are not broken and that post-traumatic growth is possible.  

In the retreat, they have an opportunity to tell their story and be heard with compassion and without judgment. They also become a part of the community of veterans and civilians who are striving for better in their lives and support each other in that journey.