Veteran on mission to combat suicide in military community

For one Navy veteran, his obligation to serve and protect others did not end when he completed his active duty career. Veteran Navy officer Eric Golnick instead has dedicated his life’s work to bettering veteran care. He is the CEO and co-founder of Veteran & First Responder (VFR) Healthcare, working to help fellow veterans with substance abuse issues and mental health care.

“I never imagined I would ever find any calling more worthwhile or important as my time in the Navy,” Golnick told Fox News. “I consider myself still serving, and the opportunity to help fellow veterans coping with mental health and substance use issues has become my mission and has been – by far – the most rewarding.”

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VFR’s mission has become even more critical in light of new statistics from the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs (VA), which reported that the number of suicides among younger veterans has increased “substantially.” The report reveals that 45 of every 100,000 veterans ages 18-34 committed suicide in 2016 – up from around 40 out of every 100,000 just one year earlier.

Golnick’s firsthand experience with trauma and substance abuse prompted him to create VFR.

“I had a sailor die by suicide which, as a military officer, your sailors are like your kids,” Golnick said. “I actually became self-medicated like a lot of vets do when they come back to get through things, and there were folks that didn't understand what we had gone through in the military, and I saw a gap area, which is why we started this company.”

Golnick said VFR is focused on trauma. He said that veterans are not going to find a substance abuse problem, like drinking, without having some kind of prior mental health or trauma issue. VFR’s focus has gotten the attention of the VA, which is now a partner of the organization. Golnick told Fox News that VFR helps the VA supplement outpatient treatment to veterans.

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“When we started the discussion with the VA, we said ‘Look, you know there are areas that we can not replace but assist in, like regions where there are high wait times,’” Golnick said. “VFR can fill that gap and help people immediately, and that's what we see with suicides and what we're trying to stop and gets vets care quickly.”

Golnick’s partner at VFR, Eric Frieman, also says their company fills another gap by providing help to the family members of veterans and first responders.

“It’s important to note that family members of those deployed, or those of first responders, must also face the uncertainties associated with these lines of work,” Frieman said. “My brother served overseas – I can speak to this firsthand. We’re here to support family members as well and urge all families and loved ones in need to reach out and seek help.”

Veterans can contact VFR at 888-635-1806.

Emily DeCiccio is a video producer and reporter for Fox News Digital Originals. Tweet her @EmilyDeCiccio