MILWAUKEE, Wisc. (TMJ4) — A stop for food and a drink five years ago changed the course of U.S. Coast Guard veteran Jorel Wester's life.
He served in the military for nearly a dozen years until he had an accident.
“I was underwater for a few minutes. That's terrifying when you have to come to the realization that you aren't coming back from this boat ride,” said Wester.
He was medically discharged from the military, which caused him to suffer from depression.
"The hole got bigger, darker, and harder to get out of. I hit a point where there was no way out of it. I couldn't find the help I was needing. I couldn't find anyone to talk to who understood. I made a decision to take my life,” said Wester.
In 2017, Wester ended his shift at work and went to get a sandwich. He had a plan, but he was looking for a sign not to do it.
"I was going to have a meal. I was going to have something to eat and I told myself if anybody stops me or talks to me, or if, 'How are you doing? Are you doing OK?' Anything. I just wanted something, someone to say, 'Ya know, you look like you need help,'” said Wester.
He got his food and was given a cup that advertised K9s for Warriors. The organization connects service animals to veterans with Post Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD).
"I kind of took that as there are other options,” said Wester. “I convinced myself that I was going to at least try."
He called K9s for Warriors and did the hardest thing he had ever done in his life. He told someone he needed help.
"It is really scary to tell someone you have a plan. It was really scary for me. But that's what I needed. I needed to hear somebody say, ‘We can help you,’” said Wester.
He says they convinced him to call the VA to get help immediately. Wester started outpatient therapy and learned he had depression and PTSD.
Wester is not alone. Suicide is the second leading cause of death for post-9/11 veterans, according to stopveteranssuicide.org.
Wester went to therapy, but he still wasn't sure it would work. He wanted to quit but he says he kept going because he knew he would end back up in the same place, considering suicide.
After nearly a year of therapy, Wester got approved to get Betsy, his K9s for Warriors’ service dog.
“With Betsy here, she is the lid on the box. She helps me carry around my burden but makes it more manageable,” said Wester.
Wester wants people to know depression and PTSD do not go away, but he is living a happier life now with his wife and kids. He wants others to know it's possible.
"You aren't alone. It is not something you have to fight alone. It's not embarrassing to ask for help. Call someone,” said Wester.
Anyone contemplating suicide can call the National Suicide Prevention Hotline. That number is now three digits: 988. There is a specific option for veterans seeking help.
This story was originally reported by Rebecca Klopf on tmj4.com.