Jesse Lloyd, director of the Veterans Journey Forward at the Veterans Memorial Museum in Chehalis, was toiling with his own mental health struggles while serving in the Marine Corps when a fellow Marine in his company died by suicide.
From that day forward, Lloyd struggled with regret for not being able to do more for his fellow Marine.
He has now dedicated his life to providing counseling for any veteran who needs it, among the many other services Veterans Journey Forward offers.
How Mental Health Was Treated in the Service
Originally from Chehalis, Lloyd attended Chehalis Middle School and W.F. West High School. Coming from a low income family, he joined the Marine Corps as his ticket to get out of the area and see the world in 2011 after graduating from high school.
Lloyd was an infantry Marine and hoped to become part of the presidential security stationed in Washington, D.C., or work security at an embassy.
His recruiter neglected to mention the very slim chances of actually being selected to the presidential guard and he ended up working security for nuclear weapons. Stuck doing a job he didn’t want, thousands of miles away from his friends and family, Lloyd’s mental health began to decline.
Lloyd said working nuclear security for a two-year stretch was the toughest period to get through.
“You were the physical security expert there for anywhere between two weeks to a month depending on scheduling. We were undermanned. That entailed you to be on post for eight to 12 hours sometimes, and you’re just in this little 6-by-6 ballistic glass box with you and one other person fully geared up,” Lloyd said. “There’s nowhere to sit. You gotta keep your gear on the whole time, and you would be stuck there all day and night and that’s it. There’s no reading material, no music, no phones. There’s nothing. It’s just you and that one other person.”
The unit he was attached to didn’t make it any easier, as hazing was frequent. Though he had graduated from boot camp and was in the fleet, basic entertainment options such as watching TV or listening to music weren’t allowed for him even during off-duty time.
After that two-year stretch, he transferred to 3rd Battalion, 6th Marine Division at Camp Lejeune, North Carolina.
“I was having severe mental health issues by that time, so I finally said something about it, which then just blacklisted me,” he said. “I got thrown into (headquarters and service) company doing admin stuff, which eventually just ended with me working security again, so it didn’t really fix anything.”
While he was trying to figure out how to deal with his own mental health issues, Lloyd met a fellow Marine, Sgt. Jacob Gray, who was also suffering.
“When I got there though there was a person there going through a lot of mental health stuff. He was just getting torn up,” Lloyd said. “He ended up coming out as gay, but he was married, so that’s adultery, and with the Marine Corps, he got charged and got everything thrown at him. And he was a combat veteran too, multiple deployments. Got blown up, all sorts of other things. So the Marine Corps that he was supporting and loving just turned its back on him. That was really hard to see.”
To further complicate matters, Gray attempted suicide and Lloyd ended up at the hospital with him at 2 a.m. wondering just what he could do to help.
“I had no idea what I was doing,” he said. “I was just trying to help, trying to talk to him, and I was like, ‘I don’t know what to do.’ He was drunk, because that was the only way he got the courage to do what he did. So he’s a blubbering mess and he’s trying to get it together but it’s just not there.”
Following this incident, instead of referring Gray to receive mental health care, he was back in the unit at work a week later, according to Lloyd. While he tried to maintain contact with Gray, Lloyd saw the Marine become isolated and begin drinking a lot more.
He recalled that Gray began to get ostracized from his unit as well and was even left behind when the unit deployed. It was on that deployment Lloyd and the rest of his unit got the awful news: Gray had died by suicide.
“That was rough. That sat with me for a long, long time. It still does. There were so many things that could’ve been done right and nothing was,” Lloyd said.
After serving from 2011 to 2016, Lloyd was discharged from the Marines and returned to Lewis County. However, Gray’s death stuck with Lloyd and drove him to get into counseling for veterans to try to help them, especially with the many shortcomings Veterans Administration (VA) based health care still has when it comes to mental health.
Dismayed with how the Marine Corps handled the situation, upon being discharged and returning to Chehalis, Lloyd began studying psychology.
Veterans Journey Forward
After getting his start in psychology, he realized that was just the first step in getting involved in mental health counseling.
Lloyd became a certified peer counselor because he found out many counselors often charge expensive hourly rates for counseling sessions, though he explained that’s because counselors incur a lot of student loan debt during their education process and are trying to pay it off.
“With me using the GI Bill, I haven’t had to pay for anything and I’m very fortunate for that. But the problem is, how am I gonna help people if I’m charging them $200 an hour? They’re essentially paying the cost of my insurance and stuff. That’s why I learned about peer counseling and got certified. It’s the bee’s knees essentially. I can work with people without all this red tape,” Lloyd said.
He had a dream of creating a nonprofit organization focusing on providing counseling to veterans. Lloyd ended up talking with Veterans Memorial Museum Director Chip Duncan, who was trying to get more veterans services in Lewis County, especially after the VA closed its only clinic in the county in October 2021.
This partnership ultimately led to the creation of Veterans Journey Forward.
“Me and him had been working at this for well over a year and developed it from nothing to what it is today,” Lloyd said. “Providing peer services at the lowest possible barrier is something that’s really, really hard. The thing we run into often is doing the right thing is seen as such a taboo now that people are like, ‘you’re doing something for the right reason, what’s the catch?'”
He added, “We’ve run into that a lot, and I have to assure people that all of our services are free. We’re not harvesting your data or sending you emails all day. Just come in to talk to me, cause that’s something I wish I had when I got out.”
It’s not just mental health services and peer counseling that Lloyd helps other veterans out with, as he’ll assist with any problem they have in any way he can.
Whether it’s dealing with issues in getting a VA disability claim, questions about how to use the GI Bill or even veterans dealing with VA home loan issues, Veterans Journey Forward will provide help and resources.
Lloyd is working on increasing services offered as well, including trying to get more veterans service officers in Lewis County to help veterans with VA claims.
“We’re trying to be that shoe-in that a lot of veterans need,” Lloyd said.
Running Veterans Journey Forward is Lloyd’s full-time job now and one he’s happy to have. He lives in Centralia with his wife, Kristi Lloyd, who is originally from Mossyrock and is an Army veteran. The couple is currently expecting their second child.
For more information about Veterans Journey Forward, visit https://www.veteransjourneyforward.org/.
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