Shepherdsville non-profit offers retreat aimed at reducing veter - WDRB 41 Louisville News

Shepherdsville non-profit offers retreat aimed at reducing veteran suicides

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SHEPHERDSVILLE, Ky. (WDRB) -- More veterans have died from suicide than U.S. forces killed in action in Iraq and Afghanistan combined.

The most recent VA numbers estimate 20 veterans take their own life every day, but a non-profit called Active Heroes is trying to reduce that suicide rate.

The group is building a retreat center in Shepherdsville where veterans can heal through experiencing nature and connecting with other military families.   

“When you’re sick, you need a hospital to go to," said Troy Yocum, the founder of Active Heroes. "But when you need to get out of depression, this is the place that you need to come to."

Yocum, an Iraq War veteran, says the retreat has already saved lives.

“I didn’t think ever that a veteran will tell me that mowing grass saved their life, but it happened,” Yocum said. “He pulled me outside and told me how he had a gun in his mouth several times, wanted to pull the trigger, but for some reason, just couldn’t do it.”

Yocum lost a grandfather, an Army sergeant, to suicide when he was a child.

“He dealt with depression. He had been disconnected with some of the guys that he served with."

After losing a close friend to suicide when they both returned home from Iraq, Yocum decide to create a place veterans can go to heal and founded Active Heroes.

“I served in the U.S. Army with him. He was 11 Bravo," Yocum said. "He was just down, down on himself for a lot of different things, dealing with depression. Sometimes the things that he would talk about mostly was not being able to adjust to home."

Veterans like Todd Dunn see the impact of an approach that looks beyond using standard treatments alone. The retreat provides a place for hiking, sports, and other activities.

“This is a place that’s 147 acres of healing power," Dunn said. "It’s a place for the families to reconnect in just an outdoor setting."

The Desert Storm veteran is now the president of UAW local 862, a group donating time and money to the project. He says veterans can help each other through tough times.  

“They also have similar relative events that happened or occurred during their deployment, or in the United States, where they can also talk and help one another heal,” Dunn said.

VA psychologist and suicide prevention coordinator Lori Johnson sees programs like Active Heroes as a beneficial part of treatment for many vets.

The VA recently increased resources for its suicide prevention program by hiring more staff and providing additional training, but Johnson says the department is constantly looking at new ways to improve care.   

“I think there’s also some ideas out there about the VA was 20 years ago, 30 years ago, and the VA has changed a lot of what it can do,” said Johnson, who added that if a veteran does not feel comfortable coming into the VA hospital for care, they can make other arrangements.

However, Yocum is concerned about red tape in the VA system. He wants the department to make the process easier for vets.

“They need to be able to go to the closest hospital for their injuries, no questions asked," he said. "No being charged from the hospital because the VA won’t cover that."

The group hopes its slice of a Kentucky paradise can be a refuge for veterans for generations to come.

If you know a veteran in need of help, you can contact the Veteran’s Crisis Line at 1-800-273-8255.

For more information on how to find resources you can visit the Veteran’s Crisis Line website. If you would like to learn about Active Heroes programs, you can visit the organization's website at www.activeheroes.org.

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