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Hearing the Veteran's Voice: Suicide

Photo by Neal Klaeser
Photo by Neal Klaeser(KWTX)
Published: May. 18, 2018 at 11:15 PM CDT
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We hear about issues veterans face when they return home from combat.

A panel of veterans who served in Vietnam, the Gulf War, Iraq and Afghanistan opened up about what they're experiencing in our series, Hearing the Veteran's Voice.

They've been going through a residential rehab program for PTSD at the VA in Waco.

In this report they candidly discussed suicide.

We are only using their first names to protect their privacy.

Have you contemplated suicide?

Brian: "It was July of 2015. I was siting on a couch with a pistol in my hand, and I ended up giving it to a friend, told him not to let me have it back. And just all the emotions and thoughts just came flooding in. I'm sitting in there tears rolling down my face."

Leo: "A couple of months leading up to getting in here, I was debating the merits of it on a daily basis and then some. And I guess I got lucky and made it through to get here. So it's a real thing. Those numbers are high for a reason."

Joel: "There's been days when you definitely contemplate what would the effects be if I killed myself. what would it be if I didn't have to live through this? And it's hard."

How did you get help?

Brian: "I called my mom the next morning and had her take me to the VA and I checked myself into a psych ward because I didn't know what the heck was going on. That's where I found out about these specialized programs that deal with traumatic events, PTSD."

Was it hard to ask for help?

Joel: "It took me seven years to even talk to a therapist, because I don't trust a lot of people. When I first came back, my very first therapist was Nidal Hasan and when he went and shot up Fort hood, I was called by CID because I was on a list of his. You just feel like you just can't trust anybody, because if you can't trust a soldier, especially a major in the United States Army, then who can you trust?"

Do you have any triggers?

George: "I get depressed sometimes. I live by myself, and when I look at TV and an Army show comes on, I have turn it off because I get emotional, so I get depressed."

Joel: "I lost a good friend of mine. I was there and I watched him get killed and it's hard because how do you face that after? In those situations, you kind of blame yourself sometimes. I should have been a little quicker. And I dealt with that and the guilt and everything."

Was it hard to find the help you need?

Joel: "The problem was there were no advertised programs for this, and that's something that needs to be advertised. The veterans need to know this is here, and the only reason I knew was because I had a friend who went through it and I would have never come."

What do you want people to know about this problem?

Brian: "We fought for each other, the guy to our left, the guy to our right to come back. We lose 20 veterans a day to suicide and that's a ridiculously high number. Where if they'd gotten the specialized treatment they needed, that number would decrease."

After the interview with the panel of veterans, we spoke with Michael Russell, the director of the Center of Excellence for Research on Returning War Veterans.

What are the reasons service members commit suicide?

"Eighty-five percent of all active duty suicides were due to loss of love object, a break up, or loss of career. With the veteran population, you've got a third variable, and that variable is meaning and purpose: Why am I here? What am I doing? When you have a reason to go on, you go on."

How can you tell someone is considering suicide?

"You get warning signs when people are thinking about it, maybe the world would be better off if I'm not here. And you need to listen to that. They start giving away their prized possessions, and sometimes when people make the decision to kill themselves, they look like they're doing better, because at least they've got a solution to a problem."

What can be done to prevent suicide?

"That feeling of life's not worth it, I'm gonna kill myself, can often be a transient feeling, it might just last a few minutes. If you can live through that, you kind of snap out of it. We have to get people past those crisis points and that's why, having some kind of plan, phone a friend, reach out to somebody, the crisis hotline, there is somebody waiting to talk to a veteran 24 hours a day 7 days a week when you call the Veterans Crisis Hotline, and the younger people, you can text. But there's always someone there to listen to you."

Veterans can call the line at 1-800-273-8255, press 1.

People can text 838255.

And you can also chat confidentially with someone online at VeteransCrisisLine.net.