There are well over 100,000 veterans in Utah. Many of them are older, having served during World War II, the Vietnam era or in one of the Gulf Wars. However, as of at least 2015, one-third of the veteran population in Utah was considered “younger,” or below 55 years old.
Along with a handful of veterans centers across the state, there are several Utah-based nonprofits, many of them founded by veterans, that have been created to better support the veteran population.
One such nonprofit is Warrior Rising, based in Salt Lake City and founded just four years ago. Although he isn’t originally from Utah, Warrior Rising has played a significant part in the life of Dave Dequeljoe, who moved to Utah earlier this year to work at Provo-based Qualtrics.
Originally from New York and a veteran of the Navy, Dequeljoe said he was going through a rough patch when he found out about Warrior Rising through another veteran organization just last year. The organization’s goal, which is to empower veteran entrepreneurs, spoke to Dequeljoe.
The organization flew him out, Dequeljoe said, to attend an event where he learned about business principles, was gifted a suit and connected to several mentors.
“It’s kind of turned my whole life around, really,” he said.
Through the Warrior Rising organization and the mentors he met, Dequeljoe said he was able to raise funding to finish writing a book about his experiences battling mental illness after serving in the Navy, titled “Dogfighting Depression.” Currently he’s working on editing the book again, but he said it’s still available to anyone who needs it.
“My mom’s best advice to me when I was a kid was if you’re ever not feeling that great about yourself, the very best thing you can do is sort of help others,” Dequeljoe said. “So I was like, I’ll just write a book about all the things I’m going through and just try to just get it into the hands of as many as I (can).”
Since publishing his book, which is available to purchase as a PDF online and also available to preorder as a hardcover, Dequeljoe said he has had people reach out to say that sharing his story helped save their lives.
“It’s been really rewarding,” he said.
But besides helping him finish and publish his book, the most important thing Warrior Rising did was help connect him to a community, Dequeljoe said.
“I wasn’t just by myself anymore ... the (mistake) that I make, that probably a lot of veterans do is like hey, I don’t want to be the one that needs help,” Dequeljoe said. “So I just really didn’t want to go to anybody and ask for anything.”
But having an organization founded and run by fellow veterans, Dequeljoe said, made him feel instantly comfortable. He felt he was able to ask for help when he needed it and feel supported.
“I love the camaraderie, like we’re all rooting for each other, and we all help each other out,” he said. “So it’s kind of like establishing a military unit outside the military, which feels very comfortable feels very familiar.”
In an effort to pay it forward, Dequeljoe started a chapter of Warrior Rising here in Utah County, starting with fellow veterans working at Qualtrics. The company helps to sponsor lunches once a month that veterans are free to attend to learn more about the organization. Learn more by visiting the Warrior Rising website or by emailing Dequeljoe at firstname.lastname@example.org.
“Sometimes you just need to meet somebody or get pointed in the right direction,” Dequeljoe said. “We’re here for them if they need (us).”
Another nonprofit organization founded by a veteran here in Utah Valley is also looking to equip veterans with the skills they need to overcome challenges and live their best lives, both in and out of the business world. Racing Anxiety, founded by Tapley Mitchell, was inspired by Mitchell’s personal dealings with PTSD, depression and anxiety after serving in the Navy.
For the first little while of living as a civilian, Mitchell said he struggled and the only thing that made him feel better was getting in his car and driving as fast as he could up to Squaw Peak. Then, while attending Utah Valley University to study automotive technology, and later business management, a professor invited Mitchell to join the racing team. Although students aren’t able to drive the cars, they get to help design and build them. Mitchell said he fell in love with racing.
Besides finding a hands-on experience that helped to alleviate some of his struggles, Mitchell said he began to apply some of the things he was learning while studying to his personal life, eliminating waste from his home and life. He also started to study leadership skills and other kind of personal development. The things he learned and applied, Mitchell said, changed his life.
“I just realized, if it worked for me, this is something that I could develop with other people,” he said.
Mitchell said he spoke with professionals, including a couple of therapists he knew, to see if his ideas would hold water. They did, and so Mitchell set to developing a 12-step program, which he said is currently being refined.
“It’s a 12-step program that helps people learn the skills that they need for personal development and to be able to eventually live the life that they want to live despite the mental challenges that they may face,” Mitchell said. “Anxiety and depression probably aren’t going to go away from the people that are diagnosed with it, but that doesn’t mean that they have to let it rob them of the experience that they want to have.”
Along with the program, of course, there is the hands-on experience that helped Mitchell so much: racing. The program is still small, having received its official nonprofit designation this past summer, so members make up a single team that recently finished its first project of building a “drift trike.” Mitchell said that even though program participants typically don’t have a background in any kind of manufacturing or building, it’s incredible to see them rise to the challenge.
Being a part of the Racing Anxiety team is not a replacement for professional services veterans may need, Mitchell said, and the organization will help connect veterans to those resources. But it is a network of people that can be reached at any time.
“If you were to come to our team, you’d be introduced to a whole bunch of people who struggle with mental illnesses and injuries and they get it. They understand what it’s like to have an anxiety attack or depression attack or night terrors or relapses,” Mitchell said. “And we all kind of agree ... that you could call any one of us, any time of the day.”
One of the goals Mitchell has for Racing Anxiety is to also help educate people who aren’t veterans or who don’t have mental illnesses about how to be a friend to those who are and do.
Shortly after graduating high school, Mitchell said he lost a friend to suicide, and that he couldn’t wrap his mind around the kind of suffering his friend went through. Coming back after serving the Navy, however, and battling his own mental illness for the first time was eye-opening. Now, he hopes to give people the kind of education he wished he’d had to better understand his friend’s suffering and how to help.
“Every day when I wake up and I read stories about veterans that struggle or high school students that struggle with anxiety or depression, that is fuel on my fire,” Mitchell said.
The most important thing for people to know for now, Mitchell said, is that overcoming mental illness is a long-term battle that requires patience and persistence. But things will get better, he said.
“If somebody loses today, if they have a panic attack or they decided to stay home from work or from school, that’s not the end of the battle.”
Learn more about Racing Anxiety and get involved by visiting http://racinganxiety.org.