SAUK CENTRE, Minn. (KMSP) - In central Minnesota, there is a place helping to save the lives of veterans. The yard of the Eagles Healing Nest is a reminder of the need of such a place. The 22 white crosses that sit in the lawn represent the 22 veterans that commit suicide in the United States each day.
Chris Stiles, is an Iraq war vet who said he came close to becoming another white cross.
"I can totally put myself in their shoes," Stiles said. But then he found the nest.
Melony Butler started the unique reintegration program. She wanted a place for service men and women to come and heal from the invisible wounds of war.
It looks like a plantation in Georgia, but it’s located just outside Sauk Centre, Minn. The old reform school is a place for warriors to find peace.
"I just want to know our veterans are taken care of. And here, they take care of each other," Butler said. "The system has failed, is failing miserably, and it’s done that for generations."
Her mission stems from the fact that her father, her husband, and her sons, all served. She knows first-hand the struggles, the PTSD, the anxiety and the depression that can follow the call of duty. The demons that shadow veterans home from the battlefield can destroy marriages, fuel addictions and chase them to a life on the streets.
"Where are they supposed to go, who are they supposed to turn to? They turn to each other or they take their life," Butler said.
She built the nest with public grants and private donations three years ago. It is the only place of its kind in the country.
The veterans who come here can stay for days, weeks or permanently, if need be. They each get their own room and pay whatever they can afford to stay. A total of 64 vets currently live on the campus.
They share in the chores, make meals, do dishes, but most importantly, share a camaraderie. There is nothing more therapeutic than telling your troubles to someone who has walked in the same boots.
"It an openness that allows you to seek the help you need whatever area you need it in," Patrick Hooker, a veteran, said. "I would not be alive had it not been for this place. Because coming out of treatment I don't know where I would have gone, and chances are pretty good I'd have gone right back to drinking,"
Licensed therapists visit the nest to offer counseling for marital problems or substance abuse. Vets also get help setting up medical appointments, finding work or going to school.
"When I came here I was broken physically, mentally, spiritually, and this gave me an opportunity to get back on track," said Hooker.
There are plans to add housing for families and hopes that more warriors will at long last find inner peace.