Before he was a three-time Super Bowl champion with the Dallas Cowboys, Chad Hennings was a pilot in the U.S. Air Force who flew 45 missions over Iraq in the Gulf War.
The veteran pilot says he saw many of his friends in the Air Force struggle with their mental health, something that was rarely discussed back then.
“I think we are in a national crisis as a nation with mental health,” Henning’s said.
A study by the National Alliance on Mental Illness found suicide rates among military members and veterans increased by 25% since 2020.
This year, the Department of Veteran Affairs is taking a new approach to improve mental health, with the “Today I Am” campaign. The campaign tells stories for veterans by veterans, each of them sharing their mental health treatment and recovery.
“What we’re doing with this campaign is featuring veterans of all different backgrounds, all different service eras, service branches, who are talking about how they are struggling,” said Chris Loftis, the VA’s national director of mental health collaboration.
Loftis says for a lot of veterans’ issues start once they get home and transition into the community.
“In the military a lot of time service members learn to be self-reliant and not seek help,” he said.
That is something Hennings now admits he was struggling with. Weeks after winning his third Super Bowl, Chad’s mental health took a dive when his then two-year-old son was fighting for his life while battling an autoimmune illness.
“There were times between my wife and I when we didn’t know whether Chase, my son, was going to even be able to make it,” Henning’s said.
Hennings could no longer rely on his own strength and sought help. He says admitting that he needed help saved his life.
Years later, he and his son are both doing much better. He encourages everyone, especially veterans, to get the help they need.
“Don’t try to be that lone wolf that gets through life by themselves,” Hennings said. “Reach out to someone else. Have those conversations because in the multitude of council there’s wisdom.”