OCEANSIDE, Calif. — An estimated 6,000 veterans take their own lives every year.
But for this Veterans Day, local organizations are hoping to raise money for peer-to-peer counseling, and the services vets need to integrate back into society.
PTSD is a battle fought long after their service is complete for many of our nation's military men and women. Operation Jump 22 and Merging Vets and Players are two organizations that have teamed together to hold a skydiving event, raising money to go to veterans in need.
In skydiving, the fall is so exhilarating, fear overcomes your entire body and all you can really have is faith in something much bigger than yourself. It's the symbolism veteran DiCarie Williamson uses to explain skydiving and the emotions veterans feel as they transition back to civilian life.
"The fear, the stress of not knowing what's going to happen," he explained.
It's how Williamson felt as he tried to find his way after 20 years in active duty Air Force and the Army Reserve.
He said veterans grow accustomed to the same routine with the same people in the military, so it comes as a shock when life as they know it suddenly stops as they return home.
For Williamson, the only thing that pulled him out of a deep depression was the support system of other veterans who are skydiving for a fundraiser in honor of Veterans Day.
He's back on solid ground now, but when his wife left with his kids a few years ago, everything fell apart.
Williamson said it felt a lot like his jump from the plane skydiving.
"It's scary, you want to scream. You can't breathe. Everything is coming at you really really fast and before you know it things slow down and you have control," he explained.
One dark day, Williamson was home alone, surrounded by deafening silence, weapons and an empty bottle of alcohol. But he reached instead for his phone, calling an old family friend who would move in to help him.
It was a life-saving decision that co-founder Roland Vandenberg said many veterans don't choose, which is why he launched Operation Jump 22. They use skydiving to raise awareness and money for education and access to services and peers veterans need.
Vandenberg explained that he launched the project, "to just be in the trenches with these veterans on a daily basis when they need us the most. Giving them the new sense of purpose."
Williamson said he finally found a new sense of purpose at Unbreakable Performance in Hollywood, training with his new team. It's another organization called Merging Vets and Players that connects veterans with retired NFL athletes so that they can navigate the uncertainties of their new routine together.
"I have a method to be able to purge all of the things that I need to that's necessary for me to drive on everyday, but it puts me in a situation to help my brothers and sisters who are having a hard time through transition," Williamson said.
He's strong enough now, both physically and mentally, to lead the way for vets just like him.