FOLSOM — Ten years after returning home from the battlefield, the fight for many veterans continues at home.
According to a recent study by the Department of Veterans Affairs, the risk for suicide is 22 percent higher among vets compared with civilian adults.
Brothers in arms can often stay family for life.
“Everyone here has laughed and cried so much our faces hurt from smiling and laughing,” said Danny O’Neel, an Iraqi Freedom veteran.
It’s laughter O’Neel knows his former regiment could use.
Now living in Folsom, O’Neel served in Operation Iraqi Freedom with the 3rd Battalion 67th Armored Regiment, self-named the “Hounds of Hell.”
O’Neel’s wife says that in August, another soldier in the unit committed suicide.
“My husband flew back to bury him and came home and told me I don’t want to do this anymore,” Faun O’Neel said. “‘I need to do something’ and I’m like, ‘OK, what do you want to do?'”
“He said ‘I want to have a reunion,’ and I’m like ‘OK, let’s do it,'”she said.
At the Folsom Fraternal Order of the Eagles, Danny O’Neel says he wants to rebuild the camaraderie his men shared while in the service.
While in Iraq between 2005 and 2007, they lost nine men in combat. But now, 13 men in his regiment have taken their own lives since returning home a decade ago.
“You truly miss them. They are your family,” Danny O’Neel said.
Danny O’Neel says no one would be a better help to a struggling veteran than those men who were on the battlefield with him.
“We didn’t have firefights by ourselves, we fought with our platoon and our squad. So we shouldn’t be fighting these demons that we’re facing here alone,” he said.
While making a banner honoring those they have lost, the O’Neels learned about two more suicides.
“We talked to the guys this weekend and told them that���s it, no more names are being added to this banner,” Faun O’Neel said.
These soldiers came from all over the U.S. and as far away as Germany to share stories and see the children of the brothers, whose lives they may have helped save.
Together, all took veteran radio talk show host Boone Cutler’s Spartan Pledge.
“Essentially it’s that I will not take my own life without talking to one of my battle buddies first. And my mission is to find a mission to support my war fighter family,” Danny O’Neel said.
Faun says this is also an opportunity for veterans’ families to reconnect, as well.
“Sometimes we don’t know how to help, and we reach out to the battle brothers and say I don’t know what to do,” Faun O’Neel said.
Whatever struggles these veterans have, Danny O’Neel knows his men won’t face them alone.
“There is a light at the end of the tunnel. You can move forward from these events. You just need to do it together,” he said.