SAUK CENTRE, Minn. — When you talk about budgets and broken promises and what's the most cost-effective way to help a veteran, it's to give them purpose, hope and love.
If you give them the tools, they'll help each other through the ugly, if they have a place that they know is safe and they are loved.
They call her Ma.
She's part house mother, part counselor, part drill sergeant. She holds their hand in the middle of the night when nightmares won't let them sleep. She answers her cellphone at any hour in case it's a depressed veteran who needs to talk. She calls their bluffs and regularly threatens to use her size 9 shoe to straighten them up, the St. Cloud Times (http://bit.ly/1BZ0gSO ) reported.
Melony Butler's mission to help veterans started when she was a child, sitting around a bonfire with her stepfather and his Vietnam battle buddies. He made her promise she would never let anyone forget the sacrifices they'd made.
She married a military man who served two tours in the National Guard, one in Iraq and one in Afghanistan. Three of their four sons have served in the Guard. The oldest was deployed to Iraq, the middle son to Afghanistan.
Butler became an active volunteer at Camp Ripley near Little Falls and with the Beyond the Yellow Ribbon campaign. When her husband's unit returned, she saw many military families struggling and falling apart.
After the oldest son returned from Iraq, he was depressed, his marriage in trouble. He called her one night to say goodbye. Frantic, she kept him on the phone and woke up his dad and brother. She kept talking to him until they found him and brought him home.
Butler called around to find him help, but the St. Cloud VA Health Care System told her they didn't have space for him. She called the adjutant general of the National Guard, who helped find an opening for her son to be placed on a 72-hour psychiatric hold. By then, she was angry.
"It shouldn't be a matter of who you know," Butler said. "Those facilities are supposed to be there to help our veterans ... These veterans served our country, and we are losing another generation."
After her son came home from the hospital, he still wouldn't talk. The medications he was prescribed were a quick fix, but not a way to live.
Butler reached out to a local doctor who was also a Vietnam veteran. He recommended giving her son what he needed: the soldiers with whom he had served.
So Butler did. Her home filled up with veterans in crisis. She was answering phones, going to visit families. There were too many to help.
The adjutant general called to check how her son was doing. Butler thanked him, but she also let him know how angry she was.
"I told him that we were going to lose another generation, that they deserve better than what Vietnam got," she said. "And he said, 'Don't come to me with a problem. Come to me with a solution.'"
That was Sunday. By Monday, Butler was meeting with a college adviser and beginning the path to a degree in psychology.
"I called him and said, 'In four years, I will give our veterans a place to heal with honor,'" she said.
But four years was too long. Butler heard about the rising number of suicides among veterans, as many as 22 dying by their own hand every day in the United States.