Photo courtesy of Save A Warrior

In an effort to prevent veteran suicide, DAV has partnered with a veteran-related nonprofit’s mission to change the direction of one warrior’s life at a time.

Save A Warrior founder Jake Clark’s father once told him that if one person’s life was saved by his organization, then the effort to do so would be worth it. Fast forward 10 years, and more than 2,000 service members, veterans and first responders have come out on the other end of the life-changing program with renewed purpose.

In 2020, the DAV Charitable Service Trust granted $1 million to Save A Warrior’s National Center of Excellence for Complex Post-Traumatic Stress to address the veteran suicide epidemic. The center, which opened in June 2022, will save thousands more warriors.

“The efforts of those at this organization, unlike prescription drugs, don’t seek to mask the pain,” said DAV National Headquarters Executive Director Barry Jesinoski at the center’s opening in Hillsboro, Ohio. “They meet the pain head-on and then provide the map for the path away from the trauma that is claiming lives in our community. And it works. That’s why we’re so proud to be here and to support these efforts.”

To date, the Trust has granted an additional $200,000 for Save A Warrior’s program services.

“While there is no one solution for the many afflictions our veterans face, we believe that Save A Warrior stands out in the fight to end veteran suicide,” Jesinoski said. “Save A Warrior considers the whole of a person to get to the core of what led to suicidal and other terrible thoughts. It isn’t just about healing a damaged brain; it’s about healing a damaged heart.”

Clark said the initial 72-hour small group sessions are a conversation about reality in a culture that sometimes struggles with it. The things service members and veterans are confronting don’t often get talked about in this country, but they are talked about in the program, he said.

“It is sometimes very, very ugly trying to get someone out of a mindset where they’re not looking forward to living out their days,” he said.

The program, created with the help of researchers and clinicians, begins with an initial, intensive three-day session and continues throughout a veteran’s recovery.

Clark said the creation of Save A Warrior drew inspiration and wisdom from Vietnam Marine veteran and author Karl Marlantes’ book “What It Is Like to Go to War.”

“Back when I was really messed up, and I knew I needed help, I thought, ‘Well, I’ll go see the Veterans Administration,’” Marlantes said at the center’s grand opening.

A Rhodes Scholar, Marlantes said he found the VA process at the time “baffling.”

“So I called DAV, you know, and I said I need help with this. And in downtown Seattle, a Marine in a wheelchair comes and meets me, you know, and he worked for DAV, and he got me organized. So thank you, guys.”

Army veteran  Adam Carr, who served as a Green Beret, was part of Cohort 35 to go through Save A Warrior. Today, Carr is the program’s master facilitator, having led or participated in 82 cohorts.

“I saw something when I sat in the seat in my cohort that I could not look away from,” he said. “I had been looking for something like this my entire life, and that says a lot. I served 12 years in the Army.”

There are no words for the experience, said Carr, a member of Chapter 55 in Dublin, Ohio.. The life of each Save A Warrior participant is intertwined with children, spouses, parents, friends and others they know, he added.

“This program changed my life forever,” said Carr. “If you want to know about it, ask my wife—it changed the trajectory of my life, and there’s 2,000 other stories just like that.”