This story discusses suicide. If you or someone you know is having thoughts of suicide, please contact the Suicide & Crisis Lifeline at 988 or 1-800-273-TALK (8255).
On Veteran’s Day, America honors its former military members for their service to the nation.
Some sacrificed their lives fighting for their country. Many others are still with us, fighting battles brought on by their service or post-service that civilians cannot understand.
But Jeremy Knauff understands.
The Marine veteran had a health crisis that began nearly a decade ago that ruined his business, left him and his wife deep in debt, and almost killed him.
Knauff went from being a high-flying publicist to losing nearly all his clients and racking up hundreds of thousands of dollars in debt trying to survive while paying for countless medical treatments in an effort to beat his illness.
He endured debilitating physical pain that took a toll not only on his body, but his mind. That coupled with financial stress led him to the point that he was concerned about the thoughts he was having: considering suicide.
One day, the thoughts became so intense that he unloaded and disassembled all his firearms, put them in a duffel bag, and alerted a buddy that the friend might need to take his guns from him at some point.
Then, while he was still in that mindset, he received a call with horrific news he will never forget.
“One of the toughest guys I ever served with ended up taking his life,” Knauff told FOX News Digital.
It was a wake-up call.
After that, Knauff started sharing with others what was going on with him. Not only people in his own everyday life, but he became very transparent on social media about what was happening. Word got around.
Soon, he started getting a lot of private messages, and began counseling other veterans who reached out to talk to him because they were having similar thoughts of suicide.
“It got to the point where everybody knew that they could give out my cell phone number or my email to literally anyone who was struggling like that,” he said.
Knauff estimates that over the years he has counseled thousands of veterans.
“I don’t know exactly how many people we’ve impacted as a result of this,” he says. “But I know there’s a certain number of people who I have pulled back from suicide.”
Knauff says helping others overcome thoughts of suicide has become a mission bigger than himself, that helps him carry on.
Over the years, Knauff has built back his business, Spartan Media, but he still has physical pain. Constant systemic inflation makes him feel like he’s being electrocuted and burned at the same time.
“If you had asked me nine years ago, ‘how long can you withstand this sh*t?’ There’s no way my answer would have been nine years,” he told FOX News Digital. But he says people don’t realize what they’re capable of or able to overcome until they’re pushed into a situation where they’re forced to do it.
“I knew I was tough back then,” Knauff said. “I know I’ve gone through things that most people couldn’t get through. But having been forced into this, it’s really forced me into a much higher level of mental toughness.”
“I can’t fold because if I do all those people I helped… that was the thing that got them through,” he says, and he fears it would let those veterans down and could cause them to compromise their own will to live. “Like, boom down like dominoes at that point.”
Overdose and suicide rates among those who have served in the military is somewhere between 2 to 3 times higher than the civilian population, according to American’s Warrior Partnership.
Knauff says that shows not enough is being done to address the mental health needs of current and former service members. But the answer might be in rallying veterans, who are able to help each other.
“I think it’s really just a matter of mobilizing veterans because a lot of veterans don’t realize that this is a thing, because we’ve been conditioned to just push everything down and continue on with the mission,” he says. “Mobilizing other veterans to basically look out for each other, I think, is probably going to be the most effective solution to this thing.”
“Like you’re in the field,” Knauff explained. “You’re on deployment, you’re doing whatever you’re doing, you’re looking out for the guy to your left and to your right. The same thing applies here.”