2 Washington veterans who attempted suicide open up about their struggles and how they triumphed

SEATTLE -- At the highest point of the Columbia Tower, veteran Joe Wankelman shares the lowest point of his life to a room full of people.During his presentation, he appears as a confident and outgoing man talking about his decade-long service to our country as an Apache pilot.“I was part of an elite team,” Wankelman said.He served four tours in Iraq and one in Afghanistan.For Wankelman and many other veterans, the terror of war takes on a different form when they come back home.“I started to unravel,” Wankelman said.Wankelman says he felt out of place in society and unable to connect with his family.“I would just cry at night not knowing who I am, not realizing that I was more than just an Apache,” Wankelman said.When he was stripped of his identity as an Apache pilot, the Army veteran says he felt so numb, so lost, that he started cutting himself.Wankelman says his troubles at home also led to a divorce, and in 2016 he tried to end his life.“I just know I woke up to a lot of wounds on my wrist,” Wankelman said.He's grateful he survived, but he could have been a statistic.According to a 2019 report of the latest data available, the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs revealed that on average 17 veterans die by suicide every single day across the country.Wankelman says he's lost four veteran friends to suicide.“Those are like good friends, people who were in my unit,” Wankelman said.Army veteran Gary Cashman doesn't know Wankelman but he can relate.“The next thing you know, you have a gun in your mouth, felt pretty much alone, isolated, not worth it,” Cashman said.Cashman attempted suicide last year, and he says in the last decade he's lost nine military friends to suicide.“We lock everything up.

'He gives me freedom': Nonprofit gives veterans service dogs to heal emotional, physical wounds

BELLINGHAM, Wash. -- David Umphenour and his dog Oscar were meant to be best friends.Oscar is Umphenour’s service dog from Brigadoon Dogs, an organization providing service dogs for veterans, along with kids and adults with physical and developmental disabilities. Q13 met up with the US Navy veteran and his new dog at the organization’s facility in Bellingham  to witness the two learning to work together as a team.Umphenour proudly served our country for 13 years with the Navy, until a rare allergy to a chemical on board Navy submarines affected his health and brain, forcing him to retire. These days, Oscar is helping him overcome health challenges to live a fuller life.“He gives me freedom,” Umphenour told Q13. “I am not homebound. My wife and I can go out and have a date night,  we can go out shopping and I won’t get stressed out because of large crowds.”Katy Brehan is the lead dog trainer for Brigadoon Service dogs and says these dogs are much more than just faithful friends and loving pets. They normalize life for a veteran who may be dealing with emotional, mental or physical wounds sustained while serving in the military.  “A lot of people avoid social interaction and become isolated. That dog is an open door to a world they thought they’d never go back to,” said Brehan.Instead, for veterans like Umphenour, a service dog allows our country’s heroes to focus on a brighter future of possibility over limitation.“This was definitely meant to be,” Umphenour said. “Oscar and I have formed a bond that very few people get to experience. It’s great. I love him.”