In 2006, Luke Gaffney did not lose any men in his platoon while serving in Iraq as a captain in the Marines. But after returning to the United States, five of them are now dead because of overdoses and suicides.

Accompanied by his service dog, Brutus, Gaffney spoke to Binghamton University students on Tuesday about how he almost took the same path as his men, and how a trip to Israel saved his life.

The Heroes to Heroes Foundation, a nondenominational nonprofit organization, offers spiritual healing and suicide prevention by organizing trips to Israel for U.S. veterans experiencing post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD). The program aims to provide a peaceful atmosphere for veterans by having them visit spiritual sites, such as the Western Wall and the Jordan River, so they gain peace of mind with the support of others who have served.

Approximately 50 people attended the event, sponsored by Hillel at Binghamton’s Jewish Student Union and Bearcats for Israel and organized by the Jewish National Fund.

Judy Schaffer founded Heroes to Heroes in 2010 in tribute to her father, who served in World War II, and to help struggling veterans after learning that 22 veterans commit suicide every day. Her own experiences in Israel and the theory that faith has an effect on suicide rates led her to organize trips to Israel that would be a healing process for veterans.

“People who are connected with their faith and attend any church, synagogue or mosque are five times less likely to die by suicide than the rest of the country,” Schaffer said. “Two hundred and nine soldiers and veterans have been on this journey, and thank God they are all still with us today.”

Gaffney entered the program after his mother saw Schaffer on political commentator Mike Huckabee’s talk show and reached out to Heroes to Heroes about her concerns regarding Gaffney’s mental health and well-being. Before participating in the organization, Gaffney said his only reason to make it home was for his dog, Brutus. Now, after completing the 10-day trip and returning as a coach on three different occasions, Gaffney attributes his new outlook on life to his experiences in Israel and the other veterans who accompanied him.

“If you take a walk through that country, you have such a hard time denying that we are spiritual beings,” Gaffney said. “It also put me in contact with a network of support and when I’m having a bad night I’ll send a text to one of my buddies and receive a response saying they understand and that’s enough.”

Molly Heller, a Jewish National Fund campus fellow and a sophomore majoring in theatre, said she organized the event because she wants people to not just thank veterans for their service, but also listen to them about their struggles after coming home.

“It’s very rare that students get to have conversations with veterans and know what they’re going through,” Heller said. “We hear about PTSD and moral injury, but we don’t know the roots of it or where it comes from.”

According to Ben Schafner, a junior majoring in history, Gaffney’s experience showed the importance of Heroes to Heroes.

“I think [Gaffney] made the event very personal,” Schafner said. “It was very moving to have him get up and share his experiences rather than someone else just telling us what the organization does.”

Gaffney said speaking was not easy for him, and got choked up when recalling past friends and incidents, but stressed that talking about PTSD is necessary.

“Heroes to Heroes saved my life so any chance I can get to get the word out about it and help another veteran, I’m all for it,” Gaffney said. “The culture that I see today has a lot of misinformation about PTSD and it’s difficult living in a society that thinks they understand and they don’t. Speaking to a group like this is important because these are the next generation of leaders.”