- Associated Press - Saturday, April 26, 2014

BOISE, Idaho (AP) - In the summer of 2012, U.S. Army veteran Reed Pacheco had his suicide all planned out.

He has four children. He didn’t want to kill himself in the same house where they live. Finding an alternate place wouldn’t be hard, he figured.

“We’re in the land of open space and wilderness,” Pacheco said.

Something else happened instead.

“I truly believe it was God,” he said.

He picked up paper and a pen, not his gun. He wrote down a list of problems veterans face when they come home from military service.

“We call them our demons,” he said. “Insomnia, drinking, broken relationships, remorse, guilt, unemployment, navigating the VA, suicide.”

He picked up the phone and called his friends - fellow veterans.

“We started just meeting to support one another. Getting our brothers and sisters together,” he said. “War fighters supporting war fighters.”

Warrior Pointe, the group he started, meets every Monday at the Assembly of God church in Nampa. It welcomes veterans of all ages, from all branches of the service, all faiths and all political persuasions.

Between 10 and 30 veterans show up on a typical night. The oldest among them fought in Korea. The youngest are back from Afghanistan. There are no membership dues.

“You paid your dues when you served your country,” said Pacheco, 40.

Meetings are low-key. They begin with the Pledge of Allegiance and a short prayer. Sometimes they just consist of simple conversation, nothing too heavy.

A loose format seems to work for everyone.

“Over time, these guys get to know each other. They begin to share things about themselves,” Pacheco said.

He and the others want Warrior Pointe to be a never-ending network that exists outside official channels, such as the Department of Veterans Affairs, to connect veterans to mental health resources in the community and to each other.

An average of 22 veterans kill themselves each day, according to data released this year. And Pacheco said the number is probably even higher.

The 22 figure is “with only 20 states reporting. And it doesn’t count the guys who drive off cliffs or take drug overdoses that look like accidents,” he said.

According to the Idaho Veteran Suicide Fact Sheet from the VA, 748 Idaho veterans killed themselves between 2000 and 2010.

“Suicide isn’t the problem. It’s the end result of having so much on your plate,” Pacheco said.

Warrior Pointe has grown through word of mouth and social media. The group has 153 chapters in several states, and Pacheco wants to establish a chapter in all 50 states by 2015.

The Boise VA has a suicide prevention coordinator on staff. The Idaho Suicide Prevention Hotline has a designated line for veterans. And Warrior Pointe recently honored Tori Shockey, a caseworker for veterans and their families in Raul Labrador’s office, for her work to support veterans in crisis and help them access benefits.

Pacheco lives in Nampa. His family’s military service dates back to the American Revolution, he said. He enlisted in the Army in 1991 and served in Saudi Arabia and Somalia. He came back to the U.S. with a case of post-traumatic stress disorder. He broke his neck and back in a bad fall during his military service and today walks with a cane.

He still goes to the VA in Boise for counseling. He’s also been invited to speak to groups there about Warrior Pointe.

Pacheco believes the group, which is in the process of getting its nonprofit status, has prevented suicides since it began in 2012. It’s not uncommon for him to get “crazy text messages” from a veteran in distress.

“Thanks to Warrior Pointe, I can have three guys at his house within 30 minutes,” said Pacheco.

One of those men might be Army veteran Joshua Petersen, 31. Like Pacheco, he comes from a military family. His father fought in Afghanistan. Petersen enlisted when he was just 17 and served two tours in Iraq. He injured his back and neck in combat and received hospital treatment for three years after returning to the U.S. in 2008.

Like so many others, Petersen suffers from PTSD. Three of the men he served with killed themselves.

After his military service he joined the American Legion, the Veterans of Foreign Wars, any veterans group he could find. Often, that camaraderie translated into drinking too much - “maybe three times a week. I never once bought my own drink,” he said.

The combination of pain medication and drinking took a toll.

“Out of the military, I felt like I had no honor, no face,” he said.

He tried to take his own life: “Luckily, I’m a bad shot.”

Petersen met Pacheco and started coming to Warrior Pointe meetings. He has since become one of the group’s most active members. He recently returned from a trip to Butte, Mont., to help a fellow veteran who was struggling with his VA paperwork.

Part of the future plans for Warrior Pointe include helping the larger community. Pacheco and Petersen want to see groups of Warrior Pointe veterans volunteering for projects such as Paint the Town, river cleanups and the Idaho Humane Society, and acting as mentors for veterans courts in Ada and Canyon counties.

“Doing things in the community helps us build that brotherhood we had in the military. Making the world a better place is the reason most of us joined the military in the first place,” said Petersen.


Information from: Idaho Statesman, https://www.idahostatesman.com

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