Actor J.R. Martinez shares his mental health journey with local veterans

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(ABC 6 News) – You might know him from "All My Children" or "Dancing with the Stars", but it’s his time as a war hero that brought J.R. Martinez to Albert Lea to talk to local veterans about mental health on Wednesday.

Before he became an actor, J.R. Martinez was serving in Iraq in 2003 when the humvee he was driving got hit by a roadside bomb leaving him severely burned. Wednesday, he shared his story with local veterans and for some, it hit close to home.

"[It’s] so encouraging, just to have him open up and then talk," said Dale Grotsun who served in Vietnam as a company clerk in the late 1960s and is now a member of the Freeborn American Legion.

When veterans returned from the Vietnam War, many weren’t treated very well. Grotsun said it’s healing to hear from other veterans who experienced war as he did.

"To hear him and give us some worthwhile, to what we saw, to what we did means so, so much," added Grotsun. "You don’t want to be in a place where you cause that kind of damage, kill people for nothing."

"I’m proud to be called a veteran. I’m proud to be called a disabled veteran," said J.R. Martinez during a Veterans Appreciation Breakfast on Wednesday.

Martinez spent three years in the hospital undergoing more than 30 surgeries including multiple skin grafts.

It’s his good friend Shari with the Chamber of Commerce who brought the idea of visiting Albert Lea, an idea Martinez jumped at.

"I just wanted to come and talk about the things that have helped me to be able to heal. Not just physically, but emotionally, and mentally," Martinez told ABC 6 News.

"And that is being able to be vulnerable and talking. And finding community, and finding a space where I can share and authentically be me. Staying true to my identity and not having to be ashamed of that."

That message means a lot for veterans like Dale.

"It’s veterans to veterans to really help. People don’t understand. Any veteran they’ve gone through this, and the experiences they’ve gone through, and it takes a veteran to know a veteran."

Dale continues that idea of veterans to veterans including having those deep conversations with other fellow veterans.