One man who lost his veteran son to death by suicide has spent years channeling his grief, motivating others to reach out and care for the veterans they know and love.
His work has galvanized military advocates in an effort they're hoping will reduce suicides in the military community.
Frank Larkin, a former Navy SEAL and now the chief operating officer of the Troops First Foundation, says his son Ryan, also once a Navy SEAL, was revered by all of his teammates.
"He was a very smart guy. He was very compassionate, always smiled."
But a decade in the service deteriorated Ryan Larkin's health. Larkin says he found his son's body after he took his life five years ago. Doctors eventually discovered Ryan Larkin had suffered a severe brain injury from blast exposure. Larkin says that in his years of advocacy work, he's seen too many other veterans suffer the same fate.
"They come home burdened, you know, with this back to a society that really doesn't understand, and it's very judgmental. And so, they keep that all in, and it just starts to cook away inside them," Larkin said.
That's why Larkin and his team at Troops First are pushing for Congress to institute a day of action called National Warrior Call Day on the Sunday after Veteran's Day. The goal is to get people to reach out more to the veterans in their lives, offering safe spaces for them speak honestly about their health and feelings. Larkin's team says fostering this connection is crucial, because isolation among veterans can lead to suicide.
"If somebody calls you, answer the phone because they might not just be calling to say hello. They might be calling and reach out for help," said one of Larkin's colleagues, Command Sergeant Major Thomas Capel, an advisory member of Troops First.
So far, U.S. Senators Jeanne Shaheen and Tom Cotton have sponsored a resolution to make National Warrior Call Day a reality. Larkin says he hopes Congress will pass the resolution by the end of the year. But if it doesn't, he says it's a cause he's prepared to fight for for the rest of his life.
"This is not a trivial issue. This is something that I think needs to be a national health emergency. We need to put that much emphasis and urgency on this to understand what's going on to make a difference."