This Retired Army Vet Living With PTSD Is Helping Prevent Military Suicides

James Van Thach understands why the violence of war can leave lasting effects.

The retired U.S. Army captain survived an improvised explosive device in 2006 and a rocket attack in 2007 while stationed in Iraq. Having returned home to New York City living with post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD), Van Thach is using his own war experiences to prevent veteran suicides -- a crisis that kills 22 people a day, he told New York Daily News.

"It’s my duty as a veteran to try to save some of them," he told the outlet.

Van Thach has become a suicide-prevention specialist who works with military organizations and initiatives nationwide, giving speeches and mentoring other vets to fight symptoms of PTSD that can lead to suicide.

According to the Mayo Clinic, PTSD results from either experiencing or witnessing a terrifying event. The symptoms of PTSD -- which may not surface until months or years after the event -- include living with reoccurring distressing memories, avoiding activities or people that remind you of the trauma and feeling a sense of hopelessness, among others.

"My legacy for my children, community and country will be that I served my nation in a time of war and my fellow veterans after the war," Van Thach told New York Daily News, noting he focuses on (and teachers other to learn) his "PAL" method -- finding your passion, aspiration, legacy -- to keep his mental health in check.

PTSD disproportionately affects those who've served in the military. Between 11 and 20 percent of the veterans of the U.S. wars in Iraq and Afghanistan experience the condition every year, according to the Department of Veterans Affairs. If veterans have "been shot at, seen a buddy get shot or seen death," among other experiences, they may experience PTSD, according to the VA.

But the condition can also affect both men and women who've experienced military sexual trauma. About 23 percent of female vets who use the VA's healthcare system reported having been sexually assaulted in the military.

One veterans program that has garnered Van Thach's support is Battlefields to Ball Fields, which aims to employ vets after their service, according to New York Daily News. In the program, former MLB umpire Zach Rebackoff hopes to find veterans positions as umpires for youth, high school and college sports. The initiative has set up an IndieGoGo page to raise funds to execute its mission.

It's all part of Van Thach's goal of empowering vets to understand they have control over their own lives.

"Our injuries don’t define us," Van Thach said, according to a press release from 2013. "We control our own destinies and set the example on how to live our lives positively and be inspirational to our fellow Americans, as well as an asset to our country."

In May, Van Thach visited the "Today" show to talk about his experiences owning a service dog after suffering injuries overseas. You can watch the clip below:

Correction: A previous version of this article misspelled Van Thach's name.



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