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Georgia veteran struggles to save suicide prevention nonprofit

The program has trained 23,000 people so far, but needs donations to stay open.

ATLANTA — An armed forces veteran is on a mission to save his nonprofit after the pandemic hit them hard. 

The Armed Forces Mission helps soldiers who are considering suicide. Kenneth Lou Koon started the organization because he went through the same struggles. 

Koon said the mission started with one question that no one but his 19-year-old son had ever asked him.

"And that's, 'Dad, are you thinking of suicide?,'"  he said. "So we are just trying to pay it forward, because there are a lot of people who are where I was."

At Armed Forces Missions first responders, churches, and anyone willing to learn are trained on how to intervene in a crisis.

He says the pandemic only increased the demand.

"We are two years into COVID, and we are seeing an exponentially higher rate of suicide than we have ever seen before," he said. 

What Koon hasn’t seen – an increase in donations - and he said now - the nonprofit is struggling.

All nonprofits were grappling with financial issues throughout the height of the pandemic, but for Koon, his mission was too important to give up. 

"There's a sense of hopelessness," Koon said. "And I say all the time in my classes; this is not a drill. This is not a drill. You're going to take the skills, and you're going to use them. And you'll use them faster than you think."

The last first responders he trained used it just hours after the class ended.

"The Peachtree City EMTs were texting me; we did an intervention, we did it by the book, it was almost verbatim. And now the young lady is safe," he said. 

Even though Koon constantly worries about his nonprofit closing its doors, he said he'll always be there to help. 

"I can't quit what I am doing," he said. "There is no way. I could be working in a department store somewhere, asking people if they're suicidal because 1 out of 10 people will be. So I will always do what I do."

In the ten years since he started The Armed Forces Mission - they've trained 23,000 people - Koon has personally done 1700 suicide interventions.

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