Coming home from deployment should mean returning to family, home-cooked meals, a comfortable bed and, most importantly, safety. But thousands of service men and women returning home from war will find themselves still fighting for their lives despite being far from the battlefield.
The enemy is invisible, but deadly. As of 2012, it has claimed more lives than war. Its name is suicide.
We lose 22 veterans to suicide every day. The number is even higher when you factor in uncounted or unreported suicides, especially of homeless veterans.
Mental Health First Aid for Veterans is an eight-hour course that teaches about the unique challenges faced by members of the military, how to identify common mental health problems and how to direct people to appropriate supports in their communities.
Just a few days after Rick Denton took the course, he saved the life of a veteran in crisis.
"I asked a vet how he was doing," said Rick. "He replied that he wasn't doing very well."
The voices in the young veteran's head were so loud that he hadn't slept in five days. At first, they told him to hurt himself. Now they were telling him to kill himself.
Rick remembered the five-step action plan he learned in his Mental Health First Aid for Veterans training and began asking questions.
"I asked him several times, 'How can I help you?' He replied that he didn't think anything could help him. I asked him, 'Are you thinking about suicide?' He said he would probably be better off dead," said Rick. "Then I asked him what he would like to do and what he thought he needed to do."
After a long pause, the young man responded that one of the voices was telling him to check himself into the psychiatric unit at the VA hospital. He said that he would like to get help and is now receiving treatment at an in-patient treatment facility that specializes in veterans living with PTSD and traumatic brain injury. If Rick hadn't known how to reach out appropriately, the young vet might have faced a very different fate.
Iraq and Afghanistan Veterans of America (IAVA) partnered with Mental Health First Aid USA in 2014 to offer more Mental Health First Aid for Veterans training. One of those instructors is David Dickerson, a veteran who retired in 2013 after 27 combined years in the Army and Navy.
"The knowledge obtained during Mental Health First Aid instruction is critical information that has the potential to save someone's life," said David. "You can be the person who is able to ask the hard questions before a friend or loved one reaches a crisis stage. I believe it has the potential to positively impact our community in profound ways."
Veterans deserve our gratitude for their service. Those who need it should have easy access to high quality mental health services and a nation that understands and supports their struggle.
This Veterans Day, do something that can make a tangible difference in the lives of our veterans. Go to www.mentalhealthfirstaid.org and get training in Mental Health First Aid so that the next time you ask a veteran, "Are you okay?" you'll know what to do if they say, "No, I'm not."
Linda Rosenberg is the president and CEO of the National Council for Behavioral Health
Paul Rieckhoff is the Founder and CEO of Iraq and Afghanistan Veterans of America (IAVA), an Army Iraq war veteran, 9/11 First-Responder and the author of "Chasing Ghosts."