At a graduation ceremony at the VA Aspire Center, Randy Elston receives a certificate and a coin symbolizing the start of a new life.
The Marine veteran survived being struck by three improvised explosive devices while in combat in Iraq.
And he has survived much more. “Suicide is my cancer, it's my disease," he says.
Elston tells NBC 7 he struggled for nearly a decade. After returning from war, his injuries and life experiences started taking a toll - and he attempted to take his life, twice. “It seems so easy. It just seems like something you can turn off, but it isn't.” He says veterans need to get professional help.
And on this day as Elston is surrounded by fellow veterans who are sharing how much he has inspired them and helped them through dark times, you can see why it was the Aspire Center that finally helped Elston breakthrough. “If you need something we’re there for each other,” he says.
Dr. Lu Le is the medical director and says this is about community. “That I am with brothers that are similarly struggling and this is not something that I have to suffer by myself," he says.
Lee says the challenge for many combat veterans is that they've survived terrifying high-stress situations most can never imagine. “It's the afterthought of like – the would've, could've, should've thinking and the self-blame and the guilt and sense of I didn't do enough or I did something that I shouldn't of done that really eats at the person," Lee tells NBC 7.
The Aspire Center is a comprehensive six-month program where veterans get housing, food, group and one-on-one therapy. Elston says in the beginning, “You don’t want to have to open up to other people, you don’t want to have to say this is how I’m feeling …but we have to.”
The therapy helps veterans deal with the past trauma they have been unable to cope with up to now. Elston says, “They do it so intensively it really brings out a lot of those emotions.” And getting through those emotions and getting help is the way to move forward.
As Randy Elston prepares to move forward to be reunited with his two young daughters in Arizona he wants other veterans to know it is important to get help. “It's not something you can do on your own," he advises.
As for that coin, it reads; “I came with hope, worked and learned, I have a new life, a life that I earned.”
September is Suicide Prevention Awareness Month. On average every day nationwide 20 veterans take their own lives. If you need help or know someone who does the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline number is 1-800-273-8255.