MUSKOGEE, Okla. — A Green Country veteran, hoping to save the lives of his fellow vets, was hit by tragedy when he learned his cousin had taken his own life.
Victor Lezama spent 10 years in the Army and 10 years in the Marines, doing two tours in Iraq and Afghanistan. Now, his image is to help fellow veterans get back on their feet, by opening The Barracks in Muskogee.
Just before The Barracks were set to open, Lezama's cousin, Gil Ortiz, took his own life. Ortiz was a service member of 17 years, and was a husband and father of three.
"This is a man who was there when my daughter passed away. Our wives were pregnant together," Lezama recalled. "I'm reading through these text messages seeing if there's any kind of clue. A reach out for help or something because he knew what we were doing."
What they were doing was finishing The Barracks to help veterans get back on their feet before turning to suicide. In the United States, 22 veterans take their own lives every day. Lezama learned when a fellow veteran loses their battle, it affects everyone around them.
"It broke me down. It broke me down bad. Because I was thinking to myself, if I can't even help my own cousin, how can I help my fellow veterans? I felt like a failure, I felt angry, because why didn't he reach out to me?" Lezama wondered.
The Barracks grand opening was delayed until March 21 while the family mourned. But out of the hardship, the push from dozens of volunteers and organizations to open on time only strengthened.
"Hitting close to home was something that I think motivated me more than ever to do what we're going to do now," Lezama said. "Never in a million years did I ever think that my bloodline would be part of that 22. It's no longer about awareness. It's now about what are we doing to help these veterans out."
The Barracks will officially open on March 21, and will be a one-stop-shop for veterans looking for housing, employment, or help as they fight their own battles.
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