MARYVILLE, Tenn. (WATE) — A new nonprofit veteran counseling service is underway in Blount County hoping to assist veterans with Post Traumatic Stress Disorder. The service is also free.
It’s called Mission Phoenix. As its name implies, its goal is to help veterans to rise from the ashes of their pain and trauma.
Josh Gagnier started the organization in memory of his father. His dad received counseling for his PTSD, but unfortunately, it came too late in his life.
Al Gagnier served five years in the Marines from the height of the Cold War to the dawn of the Vietnam War. He was 17 in 1960 when he enlisted.
Al’s son, the founder of Mission Phoenix, says the goal of the group is to reverse the number of lives lost due to complications of PTSD. Josh is proud of his father, Al. He helped Josh begin his career as a contractor.
“He had pride for the Marines. He wore the bulldog tattoo on his arm. There was just a sense of pride,” Josh said. “He struggled for years with nightmares and things like that. But as we grew up, we never heard about it.”
Josh said he had a good father, they were close but he kept things bottled up.
“There were signs of certain things, but we didn’t understand what PTSD was. So, we brushed it off as that’s just dad,” Josh said.
In May 2017, Al lost his battle with PTSD, he was 74. In memory of his father, Josh started Mission Phoenix earlier this year. He says the non-profit, held through online counseling, is aimed at eliminating the stigma of PTSD among veterans.
“The veterans that I’ve spoken to over the years, one of the biggest things they’re missing is that brotherhood. They are missing that bond that they had in the war. Knowing that someone they can talk to is not going to judge them, doesn’t care what they have done. They are there to listen and be there to be that help,” Josh said.
PTSD is a big problem among veterans today.
“It is one of the biggest problems among veterans. They say 22 veterans take their life every day due to complications of PTSD. It’s not a definite number but it is a significant number and I would say that is on a good day that only 22 take their lives,” Josh said.
Veterans can go to the VA if they need help, Josh’s father was one of the few who reached out during his mid-60s, but he believes Mission Phoenix is different.
“We want to really get to know our veterans in a personal way. We want to get to know their families, their spouses, their children. Offer them a way to be like the first responders to any kind of situation,” Josh said.
The nonprofit has a board of directors and trained counselors. Josh says the mission is now looking for a permanent meeting place in Blount County. He wants to help younger and older veterans.
“We’re starting small but we want to grow to become a company that will make a big difference,” Josh said. “We’re not trying to do this for anything else but to save lives, that is our goal. What we went through as a family, I don’t wish on any other family.”
Over the weekend, there was a kick-off concert for Mission Phoenix, nearly 700 people attended the event at the Maryville amphitheater.
To reach the non-profit organization, the website is missionphoenix.org. The group of trained counselors wants to identify and eliminate the stigma of combat-related PTSD and offers hope in the form of counseling, career opportunities and focused conversation.