Coffee shop is talk therapy for vets in distress

TACOMA, Wash. - Deborah Flagboam is still traumatized by a sexual assault during during boot camp, and needs a post-traumatic stress disorder therapy dog to help her cope with her thoughts of suicide.

"It wasn't just a cry of help, it was real," Flagboam tells CBS News correspondent Barry Petersen. "My life really wasn't the same, I couldn't really find a way to live any more."

But the former Marine was told by military officials there was a two-month waiting list for long-term psychiatric therapy. So she came to Coffee Strong, a coffee shop just outside Joint Base Lewis McChord.

Iraq war veteran Jorge Gonzales is executive director of Coffee Strong. The veteran-owned shop opened three years ago to serve free coffee to soldiers and Marines. Over time, it became a place for troops to share their problems and treat the mental scars of war. Veterans at Coffee Strong found help for Flagbom within 24 hours.

"I dont think i would be alive today to be honest," Flagboam said, "I could have ended up like Sgt. Jared Hagemann. Army Ranger Jared Hagemann killed himself this past June. He was facing his eighth combat deployment as a member of the Special Forces.

"At that moment," his wife Ashley said, "I knew this would be the death of him." Ashley said she warned base officials soon after her husband threatened suicide. He had that look in his eyes that he just wanted to die.

In 2004 there were 64 confirmed suicides in the Army. This year, 130 Army deaths are apparent suicides. There have been six at Lewis McCord.

Col. Dallas Homas, in charge of the suicide prevention program at Lewis McChord, said, "We have thrown immense resources at this: Money, effort, time to try to get soldiers to get the help they need and we have come a long way, but we are still losing soldiers to suicide."

Some officers warn their troops to avoid Coffee Strong -- which does not hide it's anti-war message. But  Homas takes a different view. "I think that where ever a soldier can get help is a good thing."

To the people who want help and come in to Coffee Strong, Gonzales said, "get help as soon as you feel something wrong with you. You are not going to be weak or less than a soldier."

At Coffee Strong, there is no weakness. Just the comfort of comrades.