Despite efforts to better educate veterans on the availability of mental health services, the rate at which former service men and women die by suicide continues to climb, according to the latest statistics available from U.S. Department of Veteran Affairs. While the number of American veterans has decreased, the number of suicides has stayed pretty much the same.
Pflugerville veteran Denny Katona enlisted in the Pennsylvania National Guard in 1993; roughly 10 years later he joined the Army and deployed to Iraq.
“During my last deployment I was in charge of the local national interpreters, and one of my interpreters – she was a 19-year-old Syrian-Christian girl – she went out on a mission. They got hit with an IED and I had to identify the body,” recalled Katona.
That experience would haunt Katona for years – the smell of burning hair and flesh. He returned from active-duty in 2012, but said he wouldn’t end up seeking out help, and eventually be diagnosed with post-traumatic stress disorder, until three years after his return.
In 2016, Katona got the idea to form the group “O.P. Veteran.” The “O.P.” standing for observation post which lends itself to the organization’s main mission – connecting veterans with other veterans to make sure they’re watching out for each other.
“When we’re going through that and we’re at that point, one of the biggest feelings that we have is, ‘I’m all alone, nobody feels the way I feel,’” said Katona. “By showing veterans that they are connected to others that have undergone the same trials and ordeals and have overcome that – I think that shows the encouragement folks need in order to start getting the help that they need.”
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