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Program reunites combat units to help prevent veteran suicide

CHARLOTTE — For one retired U.S. Army veteran, Memorial Day is a time to honor a friend he lost 13 years ago.

Shawn Donahue served in the Army for 21 years before retiring last November. He deployed seven times -- mostly to Afghanistan and Iraq, where he saw combat. In some situations, he even lost friends.

“I underestimated the transition out of the military,” he told Channel 9′s Gina Esposito.

It isn’t easy for Donahue to talk about Sergeant Albert Ware, who was killed by a roadside bomb in 2009. It’s pain he’s been working through thanks to the help of Operation Resiliency, or OpRES. It’s a four-day retreat put on by the Independence Fund, a Charlotte-based veteran organization.

The program reunites combat units in an effort to improve the mental health and wellbeing of veterans and in turn, helps prevent veteran suicide.

“The OpRES program is phenomenal because they don’t force you to do anything if you’re not ready to unpack, but they make the opportunity available for you,” Donahue said.

Sam Johnson with the Independence Fund said each year, dozens of veterans across the country go through the program. And it’s saving lives -- no one who has been through the program has died by suicide.

>> In the video at the top of the page, Esposito learns how the program focuses on human connection, leading to higher registrations for mental health resources.

If you’re a veteran in crisis or are concerned about someone, please call the Veterans Crisis Line: 800-273-8255.

Channel 9 is part of Cox Media Group Television (CMG). CMG is joining forces with Veteran Jobs Mission in an effort to help 2 million servicemembers and their families find and keep employment. To learn more, click here.

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