ST. LOUIS ( -- More than 6,000 veteran die every year by their own hands around the country, a figure equating to nearly 20 veterans a day. 

Some private partnerships are hoping to step up and stem the tide of veteran mental health issues. One local veteran's life changed after getting involved with a St. Louis-area group helping those silently suffering. 

Gary Havel Jr. is an Army veteran like 20 million other Americans. He joined the reserves right out of high school and was activated two days before Christmas to fight in Desert Storm. 

"It was just a pretty chaotic scene," Havel said. 

The atrocities he saw while serving took a toll on his life and eventually affected his marriage.

"When I came back ... from Desert Storm my wife told me that I was different," Havel said. "[She said], 'You're just not the same guy I married.'"

Havel ended up getting a divorce and had retired from his longtime civil servant job because of mental health issues. 

"As a military person you're not supposed to show weakness, you know you're not supposed to let people know there's anything wrong," Havel said. "You just hold it in."

Holding trauma in was too much to handle for Havel, to the point his friends told him he needed to get help. One of his friends introduced him to a veteran support group and charity called the Kaufman Fund. 

Wayne Kaufman, a Vietnam veteran, started the charity almost 30 years ago to help people like Havel who find it difficult to admit they need assistance.

"I get calls from veterans everyday," Kaufman said. "When they know they are talking to a veteran they open up a little bit more."

Havel said his life began to improve once he met Kaufman.

"Once I opened up, it was like a relief," Havel said. "It was just like a weight had been lifted off my shoulders."

The Kaufman Fund helps veterans with financial and housing assistance, legal aid, and dental care; some of which are only provided by the VA to veterans on full disability. 

Kaufman said the group is also there for veterans who need a shoulder to lean on, which is why he just partnered with the VA to launch a new mental health program in collaboration with five agencies.  

"Unfortunately, there's still 20 veterans a day dying from suicide," Kaufman said. "The more veterans that know about us, the more we're going to be able to help."

The Kaufman Fund's biggest fundraiser is a golf tournament on August 29 at the Whitmoor Country Club. The group is still looking for sponsors and volunteers, you can find out more here

Copyright 2019 KMOV (Meredith Corporation). All rights reserved

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