Some veterans of the war on terror are taking a new approach to helping each other heal.
Retired Delta Force operator Derek Nadalini and nonprofit CEO Pack Fancher have launched the Operator Relief Fund to help "shadow warriors" — elite military and intelligence operatives — who fought in U.S.-led wars after 9/11. Their goal is to support service members, veterans and spouses of the special operations and intelligence communities with a focus on operational and direct support personnel.
The Operator Relief Fund is like a clearinghouse for specialized services to address traumatic brain injury, stress disorders and substance abuse, among other challenges, with the goal of offering veterans more immediate help and access to innovative treatments.
It is a small operation that Nadalini and Fancher say they hope to expand and complement existing VA services. So far, they say 180 shadow warriors have been helped.
According to the USO, about a quarter of a million people answered the call to service after 9/11 in both active duty and reserve forces.
Nadalini told CBS News he wouldn't trade his 20 years of military service for anything, but that it came with a price. He said he came close to taking his own life.
"I felt like I was hiding who I was from everybody," he said. "I didn't understand why I couldn't think. I didn't understand why I couldn't feel responsibly. I didn't understand why I hurt so much."
He completed more than two dozen deployments including in Afghanistan and Iraq, where he says door breaches and improvised explosive devices caused a traumatic brain injury. He says he felt lost and landed in a very dark place after he left the Army six years ago.
He said at one point, he had a gun to his head, but was able to pull back. And he notes that he has not been the only shadow warrior struggling.
According to the VA's 2022 National Veteran Suicide Prevention Annual Report, the suicide rate for veterans was 57% higher than non-veteran U.S. adults in 2020.
"The rate of suicide amongst all veterans, but shadow warriors in particular, is obscenely high," said Fancher, founder and CEO of the Spookstock Foundation, a nonprofit that also works to help shadow warriors.
"We Americans owe these shadow warrior families. We need to get in front of this," he said.
For more than a decade, Fancher has raised money for educational scholarships benefiting the children of fallen intelligence and military operatives through discrete concert events so secret that the name and location are on a need-to-know basis. Some of the names he has brought in over the years include Lenny Kravitz, Brad Paisley and Billy Idol.
With this new mission, Nadalini says he feels the same sense of purpose he felt on 9/11.
"We are working to get it right. One person at a time," he said.
The Operator Relief Fund can be reached at: email@example.com
If you or someone you know is in emotional distress or suicidal crisis, you can reach the 988 Suicide & Crisis Lifeline by calling or texting 988. You can also chat with the 988 Suicide & Crisis Lifeline here.
For more information about mental health care resources and support, The National Alliance on Mental Illness (NAMI) HelpLine can be reached Monday through Friday, 10 a.m.-10 p.m. ET, at 1-800-950-NAMI (6264) or email firstname.lastname@example.org.
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