Veteran Suicides, Where We Failed

According to the World Health Organization, almost one million people die by suicide every year, which is a global mortality rate of 10.7 per 100,000. In the United States (U.S.), someone attempts suicide every 31 seconds and an average of 1 person dies by suicide every 11.9 minutes, a rate of 13.3 per 100,000. Suicide is the tenth leading cause of death in the country. An important consideration is that suicides have consistently been underreported for a variety of reasons. Experts have estimated that suicide incidence may be 10-15% higher than officially recorded.

The U.S. military reflects an important subset of the U.S. population with both shared and unique characteristics when compared to the U.S. population. Historically, military suicide rates have been lower than those rates found in the general population. Rising suicide rates among Service members and Veterans over the past decade have raised public and professional concerns. Suicide is the second leading cause of death in the U.S. military. 

Veterans are twice as likely as civilians to die by suicide, the Department of Veterans Affairs said Monday in its latest report on suicide. Veterans make up more than 14 percent of all suicides, although they account for only 8 percent of the total population, the VA report said.

In the last four years, the official government estimate on the number of veterans who die by suicide has gone from 22 a day to 17 a day in the latest Veterans Affairs report. But the rate of suicides among veterans didn’t decrease over that span. Instead, the way the figures are sorted and presented did.

Instead, outside experts note that by many markers the problem has grown even worse. The total number of suicides among veterans has increased four of the last five years on record. From 2007 to 2017, the rate of suicide among veterans jumped almost 50 percent.

Veterans are 1.5 times more likely to die by suicide than Americans who never served in the military. For female veterans, the risk factor is 2.2 times more likely. “Our takeaway from all this is that what we are doing is not working,” said Chanin Nuntavong, national director of veterans affairs and rehabilitation for the American Legion. “Everyone has been focused on this, but we’re not seeing results.”

While the trend hasn’t changed since 2014, deaths by suicide are increasing among veterans just as they are in the general population, the VA found. Data for the study was obtained from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention’s National Death Index. “After adjusting for differences in age, the rate of suicide in 2015 was 2.1 times higher among veterans compared with nonveteran adults,” the report reads. Data for 2015 was the latest complete set of numbers available.

The rate was 1.3 times higher for male veterans compared with civilians and twice as high for female vets, the report found. “In 2015, an average of 20.6 active-duty service members, nonactivated Guard or Reserve members, and other veterans died by suicide each day,” it said.

Suicides are up across the country. Report after report finds that they are becoming more common among men, women and children. It’s not clear why, but psychiatrists and suicide experts say it’s probably a combination of factors — a lack of access to mental health care, a growing sense of disconnection in society, economic woes and relationship problems.

Reducing veterans suicide has been the top clinical priority of VA officials for the last few years, and a major focus of executive branch and congressional leaders for at least a decade. In March, a special interagency task force established by the White House is scheduled to unveil its latest plans for that effort. At least one study showed that among veterans, quick turnarounds between deployments, or deploying military personnel too early, raised the risk of suicide.

Yet the impact of that work so far has been disheartening to many advocates who had hoped to see reductions in the suicide numbers by now. Despite some positive steps and mitigating factors, real progress on the issue is still out of reach. “In my eyes, this report tells us it’s time to do something different,” Nuntavong said. “We lost more than 60,000 veterans to suicide over 10 years. That’s ridiculous.”

About 6,100 veterans died by suicide in 2017, the latest year for which data is available. That number stayed roughly steady over the previous decade, even as the total number of veterans in America has dropped by about 15 percent.

Over the same span, the number of suicides among all Americans rose by nearly 10,000 individuals annually, an increase of nearly 30 percent. Heather O’Beirne Kelly, director of military and veterans health policy at the American Psychological Association, said in comparison to national suicide prevention initiatives, VA’s efforts have shown some positive results.

“VA is really thinking about this and using the most up-to-date research,” she said. “But it’s a very complicated problem, it’s a multi-faceted problem. It’s tragic we can’t all figure this out more quickly.”

Department officials have repeatedly emphasized that cutting down the number of veterans suicides will require more than just government programs, noting that nearly two-thirds of those deaths are among veterans who are not using VA health services.

“We cannot do this alone,” Dr. Richard Stone, executive in charge of the Veterans Health Administration, wrote in an open letter accompanying the department’s suicide report release last month. “We call on our community partners to join us in this effort.”

The revamping of how the VA suicide data is presented was part of that approach of showing the problem is broader than just the veterans’ community.

As recently as four years ago, VA leaders were still referencing the “22 a day” statistic in regards to veterans suicide based on partial state death records data and internal estimates. After a research push in 2016, department leaders shifted that figure to “20 veterans a day” based on more reliable information, without establishing any reduction in deaths.

This year’s report now cites the veterans suicide figure as “17 a day,” removing active-duty, National Guardsmen and reservists from the larger number. State data had grouped all military together in the past. Again, VA officials are quick to point out that the new metric does not represent a decrease in veteran deaths, just a different way of presenting the information.

A veterans problem

In fact, the rate of veterans suicide has grown significantly worse in recent years. From 2006 to 2017, that figure rose ever year except for one.

“What we see is there is a specific problem with veterans and suicide,” said Rajeev Ramchand, a research fellow with the Bob Woodruff Foundation who has worked closely on the issue. “There is a younger veteran problem, there is a female veteran problem.”

Although the bulk of veteran suicides are among individuals 55 and older, that’s largely a reflection of how much of the population is from earlier generations. The rate of suicide among those older veterans is about 25 per 100,000 individuals. Among 18- to 34-year-old veterans, that figure is almost 45 per 100,000.

“As you try to bring down the numbers, you have to look at that older group because the most suicides are there,” Ramchand said. “But I think the bigger question VA has to grapple with is why that younger number keeps getting worse.”

Outreach also continues to be a major obstacle for VA prevention efforts.

While the department’s report notes that its medical centers “performed comparably or better than non-VA facilities” in most mental health treatment measures, those efforts only affect veterans who use VA for care. Currently, more than half of veterans in America do not.

What comes next?

Part of the difficulty in analyzing the suicide data, experts agree, is the lag time it takes to collect the figures. None of the numbers in the latest report reflect any program or policy changes from the last two years.

The presidential task force on suicide prevention has promised to look for ways to speed up that information collection, in hopes of quicker reaction to community needs.

Ramchand said he wants to see more veterans community discussion on issues like military sexual trauma and mental health stigma to address longer-term suicide triggers, but also acknowledges that work will take significant time and cooperation with resources outside of VA.

But he said that doesn’t mean that VA can simply point to national suicide numbers as an excuse for its problems.

“Yes, we’re seeing the numbers up in society as a whole,” Ramchand said. “But there is still something unique putting veterans at risk.”

The government has begun to acknowledge the danger that suicide poses for an all-volunteer fighting force and has invested $1 billion in seeking solutions.

But that hasn’t proved to be enough. Suicide rates for active-duty service members and veterans are rising, in part, experts say, because a culture of toughness and self-sufficiency may discourage service members in distress from getting the assistance they need. In some cases, the military services discharge those who seek help, an even worse outcome.

More than 45,000 veterans and active-duty service members have killed themselves in the past six years. That is more than 20 deaths a day — in other words, more suicides each year than the total American military deaths in Afghanistan and Iraq.

The latest Pentagon figures show the suicide rate for active-duty troops across all service branches rose by over a third in five years, to 24.8 per 100,000 active-duty members in 2018. Those most at risk have been enlisted men under 30.

The data for veterans is also alarming. In 2016, veterans were one and a half times more likely to kill themselves than people who hadn’t served in the military, according to the House Committee on Oversight and Reform. Among those ages 18 to 34, the rate went up nearly 80 percent from 2005 to 2016. The risk nearly doubles in the first year after a veteran leaves active duty, experts say.

The Pentagon this year also reported on military families, estimating that in 2017 there were 186 suicide deaths among military spouses and dependents.

Military officials note that the suicide rates for service members and veterans are comparable to the general population after adjusting for the military’s demographics — predominantly young and male. But given the military’s size and influence, it is an institution that is well placed to lead the nation in suicide prevention.

Other than pointing to national trends, officials have offered few explanations for why military suicides are rising. Studies seeking more answers are underway.

Experts say suicides are complex, resulting from many factors, notably impulsive decisions with little warning. Pentagon officials say a majority of service members who die by suicide do not have mental illness. While combat is undoubtedly high stress, there are conflicting views on whether deployments increase risk.

A number of psychosocial factors are associated with suicide risk. The most common individual stressors identified for both military suicide decedents and military suicide attempts were relationship problems, administrative/legal issues and workplace difficulties. Other medical conditions that are associated with an increased risk for suicide include traumatic brain injury (TBI), chronic pain, and sleep disorders. These conditions can contribute substantially to increased suicide risk in affected individuals. The most common method for suicide in the DoD is firearms, accounting for over 60 percent of all suicide deaths in the military.

Elevated suicide risk has been shown to endure well beyond military service, with Veterans carrying a much greater risk for suicide than their civilian counterparts. According to the Office of Suicide Prevention (2016), Veterans account for approximately 18% of all adult suicide deaths in the U.S. Interestingly, Veterans represent only 8.5% of the U.S. population, highlighting the disproportionate number of suicide deaths in this population. This means that approximately 20 Veterans die each day by suicide. Like Service members, the most common method for suicide among U.S. Veterans is firearms, accounting for over two-thirds of all Veteran suicides.

Where there seems to be consensus is that high-quality health care and keeping weapons out of the hands of people in distress can make a positive difference.

Studies show that the Department of Veterans Affairs provides high-quality care, and its Veterans Crisis Line “surpasses most crisis lines” operating today, according to Terri Tanielian, a researcher with the RAND Corporation. (The Veterans Crisis Line is staffed 24/7 at 800-273-8255, press 1. Services also are available online or by texting 838255.)

But Veterans Affairs often can’t accommodate all those needing help, resulting in patients being sent to community-based mental health professionals who lack the training to deal with service members. With the significant increased suicide rates in our military population, it is imperative that we provide evidence-based psychotherapies developed specifically to target suicidal thoughts and behaviors. Cognitive Therapy for Suicide Prevention (CT-SP) is an evidence-based treatment recommended by the VA/DOD Clinical Practice Guideline for the Assessment and Management of Patient’s at Risk for Suicide (2013). CT-SP is a structured, time-limited, present-focused approach that helps patients develop coping skills and strategies to overcome suicidal crises.

Kim Ruocco’s husband, John, a decorated Cobra gunship pilot who flew 75 combat missions as a Marine, also returned home tormented. But he did not seek help to deal with depression and combat trauma. He killed himself in 2005 as he prepared for a second deployment to Iraq. As an executive at the nonprofit Tragedy Assistance Program for Survivors, Ms. Ruocco now helps grieving families and friends and raises awareness about the risk of suicide. She says even when service members in distress know about available resources, they often resist.

“One of the biggest battles is the military culture,” Ms. Ruocco said. “Seeking mental health treatment goes against everything they are taught in boot camp,” where service members are told “to push through pain, to think of everybody else before self, to solve problems with lethal force if necessary.”

Marines wouldn’t think of not working out physically, she said, but “there is no space and time for self-care until it interferes with their ability to do their jobs.” She is confident that if Marines had been drilled on the importance of mental and emotional health, her husband would have found a safe way to cope.

Not only do these deaths devastate families; suicides can also undermine morale and cohesion within units that lose a member this way and can discourage potential recruits, threatening the viability of the all-volunteer force.

The other obvious imperative is doing more to reduce easy access to firearms — the most widely used method of suicide — by distributing gun locks, training individuals in safe storage methods and enabling military commanders to remove a service member’s firearm if warranted. Health care professionals who treat service members and veterans should discuss this issue with their patients, just as they encourage people to wear seatbelts and bike helmets.

In the end, everyone has a role in helping those we love who are experiencing tough times to discuss their struggles, reduce alcohol and drug use and seek professional help.

To quote the Marine commandant, Gen. David Berger, “We must create a community where seeking help and assistance are simply normal, important decisions Marines and sailors make.”

Conclusion

In the last few months I have researched and written over 200 blog articles. I have to admit this article is by far the most depressing, distressing and heartbreaking article that I have written. Since the Vietnam War, our military has been supplied solely by volunteers, which makes this story even more distressing. The reasons why young people join the military is as varied as the individuals themselves. Women as well as men now fight on the front lines. Many young people join the services for the GI bill, so they can get their college education paid for, while many join because of their love for America. Many join the services, because they have no idea what they want to do with their lives. The reasons are countless. However, once they join the service, they are provided with everything they need to succeed. Everything is the best money can provide. They are provided with a structured life, they have a new meaning and a purpose. They gain a sense of belonging and comradeship. They develop friendships and loyalties. When they are discharged from service all this disappears. They also have no one to share their experiences with, especially if the have experienced combat. They may find out that nobody understands what they are going through. They may loose their sense of self. They may not live close to VA services. Many of our VA services are subpar, especially when it involves psychiatric support. I am sure many woman find that their previous lifestyle and friends has become trivial, especially if the entered the military before they became married. Whatever the reasons these individuals have for ending their lives we have let them down. We need to do better. President Trump has worked at improving the care provided to our Vets. He has also worked on in breaking up some of the bureaucracy surrounding the VA. By making it possible to fire under preforming employees. The VA is not doing its job because there is not enough funding, it is because there is no incentive for the staff to do a good job. Thanks to new policies, Vets can seek care at civilian facilities, if they cannot obtain it at the VA. It is hoped that this will help reduce the suicide rates.

In 1917 Loretta Walsh became the first woman to enlist in the military. A 1948 law made women a permanent part of the military services. In 2015 the ban on women in combat was lifted in 2015 and women began integrating previously closed combat arms billets in January 2016. Five years is the length of a service academy contract and longer than the average enlistment contract. In 2015 18.8 men out of population of 100,000 vets, while 15.1 females committed suicide. While the current ratio of vets is 12.3% female to 87.7% male. So the percentage of females committing suicide is even greater than males. These are disturbing trends. They have to be addressed.

As of this article being written, it is looking like President Trump will not be re-elected to a second term. I hope this does not mean that we will make cut backs in our spending on the VA. Only time will tell.

Resources

militarytimes.com, “New veteran suicide numbers raise concerns among experts hoping for positive news,” By Leo Shane III; nytimes.com, “Suicide Has Been Deadlier Than Combat for the Military: The Pentagon has made strides in helping those in need, but the rate of deaths is rising.” By Carol Giacomo; deploymentpsych.org, “Suicide in the Military;” mrsrc.fsu.edu, “Study reveals top reason behind soldiers’ suicides;” maketheconnection.net, ” Suicide;” nbcnews.com, “Veterans more likely than civilians to die by suicide, VA study finds; While the trend hasn’t changed since 2014, deaths by suicide are increasing among veterans just as they are in the general population.” By Maggie Fox; publichealth.va.org, “Suicide Risk and Risk of Death Among Recent Veterans;” onceasoldier.org, “More Than a Number: The Stories of Veteran Suicides,” Written By Family Members; mentalhealth.va.gov, “Facts About Suicide Among Women Veterans: June 2018;”

Addendum

Military Suicide Research Consortium (MSRC) News Details

Study reveals top reason behind soldiers’ suicides

When researchers asked 72 soldiers at Fort Carson, Colo., why they tried to kill themselves, out of the 33 reasons they had to choose from, all of the soldiers included one in particular — a desire to end intense emotional distress.

“This really is the first study that provides scientific data saying that the top reason … these guys are trying to kill themselves is because they have this intense psychological suffering and pain,” said Craig Bryan, co-author of the study by the National Center for Veterans Studies at the University of Utah that will be published in the coming months. Suicide within the military has soared since 2005 as the military has waged two wars at once, and this year may set a record with troops committing suicide at the rate of one per day, according to Pentagon figures.

But military scientists say that finally, after years of congressional funding and the launch of randomized studies of a subject rarely researched, a few validated results are beginning to surface.

The findings by the Pentagon-funded study offer perhaps some guidance on how to attack the problem, said Army Col. Carl Castro, who is coordinating $50 million in research into suicide prevention and treatment.

“The core of the issue is that it’s not that people who attempt suicide … want to harm themselves as much as they want the pain they’re currently in to stop, and they don’t see any other way out,” Castro said.

The study also found that the soldiers often listed many reasons — an average of 10 each — for suicide, illustrating the complexity of the problem, Bryan said. Other common reasons included the urge to end chronic sadness, a means of escaping people or a way to express desperation.

Meanwhile, a new Pentagon analysis released Tuesday shows that suicide rates in the military were highest among people divorced or separated — with a rate of 19 per 100,000 — 24% higher than troops who are single.

In addition, mental health rates have risen 65% in the military since 2000, with 936,000 troops diagnosed with at least one mental health issue in that time, according to the new data.

The Fort Carson findings support the premise behind new therapies underway which break with traditional approaches toward dealing with suicide that treat underlying illnesses such as depression or post-traumatic stress disorder, Castro said.

Instead, these new therapies first teach soldiers skills at quelling emotional pain or “treating the suicide,” Castro said.

The new therapies are being tested in a small number of Defense Department studies. Preliminary results are showing a drop in suicide attempts, said David Rudd, who is leading the research and is co-founder of the National Center for Veterans’ Studies.

Suicide Deconstructed

How do I know if I am suicidal?

Have you been thinking that you would be better off dead? Do you wish you could go to sleep and not wake up? Perhaps you have been planning how you would end your life or making preparations for when you’re not here. You may have actually begun to take action to hurt yourself in a way that could kill you. These are increasingly serious levels of what are called suicidal behaviors.

If you are experiencing any of these thoughts or actions, you should seek immediate support. Call the Veterans Crisis Line at 1-800-273-8255 and Press 1, use the Veterans Crisis Line online chat, or send a text message to the Veterans Crisis Line at 838255. The Veterans Crisis Line provides free, confidential support 24 hours a day, 7 days a week, 365 days a year. If you feel you are in a crisis, whether or not you’re thinking about killing yourself, you can also contact the Veterans Crisis Line. It’s better to call sooner, rather than wait for problems to get worse.

Most people who consider suicide have problems they think they can never overcome. They think that no one can help them and that suicide is the only way out. People who are considering suicide may feel:

  • Helpless, like there is nothing they can do to make things better
  • Hopeless, thinking their problem cannot be solved by them or anyone else
  • Worthless, thinking they’re unable to help themselves or feeling like a failure
  • Hateful toward themselves
  • Like they are a burden to others
  • As if the pain of living is too much to bear

Some Veterans’ pain may come from having been through traumatic events like the death of someone close to them, seeing people die during their military service, or sexual assault or abuse. Other Veterans’ difficulties may be the result of a major setback such as ending a marriage, losing a job, or feeling as if their honor is lost. Some people may think about suicide due to the buildup of stressdepressionanxiety, or posttraumatic stress that makes life seem as if it’s no longer bearable.

No matter the reason, people don’t attempt suicide because they want to die, but because they see suicide as the only way to escape the pain of living. It is important to realize that there are many ways to handle any problem — even if you can’t see a solution yourself. Sometimes you need an outside perspective to see new answers to personal problems.

Medical conditions such as depressionposttraumatic stress, and chronic pain may lead to thoughts of suicide. There are effective treatments and resources for each of these conditions.

What are the warning signs of suicide?

There are different types of warning signs you may see in yourself or another person who may be in crisis. All warning signs require attention, and some require immediate action. Some people will make jokes about suicide when they are having suicidal thoughts. Others may even appear calmer or happier than usual because they have decided to attempt suicide and feel relief at making a decision. Not everyone who makes a suicide attempt shows warning signs. However, warning signs of suicide should always be taken seriously, even if the person seems to be joking.

“I know a lot of people think about suicide. I know I have. But committing suicide is the exception, and you need to ask for help.”

If you recognize any of the following signs of suicide in yourself or others, you should reach out for support:

The following warning signs require immediate attention:

  • Making a plan for how or when to attempt suicide
  • Frequently talking, writing, or drawing about death or about items that can cause physical harm
  • Acting recklessly or engaging in risky activities without thinking about the consequences
  • Behaving violently such as punching holes in walls, getting into fights, or engaging in acts of self-harm
  • Feeling rage or uncontrolled anger or seeking revenge
  • Acting as though you have a “death wish”; tempting fate by taking risks that could lead to death, such as driving fast or running red lights
  • Giving away prized possessions
  • Putting your affairs in order, tying up loose ends, and/or making out a will
  • Seeking access to firearms, pills, or other means of harming yourself

It is important to get help right away if you notice any of the signs above. Getting support can help you see that solutions to your problems exist and that suicide is not the answer.

What is the treatment for suicidal thoughts and behavior?

No matter the problem you are dealing with, there is support available, and there are things you can do to solve it. Veterans of all ages and eras have sought help for suicidal thoughts and behavior and are living better lives today. You can hear stories from fellow Veterans and Service members about their own battles with suicidal thoughts and behavior and how they overcame them.

Treatments to cope with suicidal thoughts and behaviors can involve counseling, medication, or a combination of these. Counseling can help you see new solutions and perspectives that may not have occurred to you, and give you better ways of coping. Medications affect the chemicals in your brain that may be contributing to your feeling down and thoughts of suicide.

“I thought, ‘What’s the purpose of me living?’ I really didn’t want to be here anymore. But what saved me was finding this great therapist at the VA after I admitted myself into the hospital. That was the first time that I was able to open up about what I had been through.”

In addition to treatment, you can adjust your lifestyle to help prevent or deal with suicidal thoughts. Be sure to take time to:

  • Set reasonable goals for yourself.
  • Cut back on obligations if you are overworked.
  • Spend time with family, friends, or other Veterans to avoid feeling isolated.
  • Exercise and get enough sleep.
  • Slow down, using relaxation techniques such as meditation or deep breathing.

What can I do to cope with suicidal thoughts and behaviors?

If you are having thoughts of harming yourself or wish you were dead, you should talk to someone right away. Your family and friends may already know that you’re having a tough time. You may want to turn to them and let them know what you’re feeling and thinking.

You can call the Veterans Crisis Line at 1-800-273-8255 and Press 1, use the Veterans Crisis Line online chat, or send a text message to the Veterans Crisis Line at 838255. The Veterans Crisis Line offers free, confidential support 24 hours a day, 7 days a week, 365 days a year.

You can also take a confidential self-check quiz to better understand what you’re going through, learn if it may be a good idea to seek professional help, and see how you might benefit from VA or community-based services. Your anonymous answers to a brief list of questions will be reviewed by an experienced counselor who will then send you a personal response to a secure website. The counselor will also provide you with resources and options for further follow-up.

Take the next step to connect with care.

Every day, Veterans from all military service branches and eras connect with proven resources and effective treatments for anxiety disorders. Here’s how to take the next step: the one that’s right for you.

Read VA’s latest coronavirus information. If you have flu-like symptoms such as fever, cough, and shortness of breath, please call before you visit your local medical center or clinic. If you have an appointment, consider making it a telehealth appointment.

New to VA? Apply for health care benefits.

Already enrolled in VA and interested in mental health support? Schedule a mental health appointment.

  • If you’re already enrolled and using VA health care, the fastest way to schedule VA appointments is to call the VA facility where you want to receive care.
  • With VA Appointments tools, you can schedule some VA health care appointments online, view details about upcoming appointments, and organize your health care calendar.
  • If you’re not using VA medical services, contact your nearest VA medical center or Vet Center to talk about your needs.

What about other options at VA? VA offers a variety of tools and resources.  

  • The Veteran Training online self-help portal for overcoming everyday challenges includes modules on managing anger, developing parenting and problem-solving skills, and more.
  • Mental health apps for Veterans cover a variety of topics, ranging from PTSD to anger management to quitting smoking.
  • VA TeleMental Health connects you with a VA mental health provider through a computer or mobile device in your home or at your nearest VA health facility. You can learn more about this option from your local VA medical center.
  • Vet Centers provide support, counseling, and readjustment services for Veterans and active duty service members (including members of the National Guard and Reserve) who have served on active military duty in any combat theater or area of hostility or have experienced a military sexual trauma. Find a Vet Center near you or call 1-877-WAR-VETS (1-877-927-8387) to talk with a fellow combat Veteran about your experiences, 24 hours a day, 7 days a week, 365 days a year.

What about support beyond VA?

There’s a whole community of support ready to help with whatever you’re going through. Use this tool to find resources near you.

Infographic detailing the risk of suicide in recent Veterans.

WRITTEN BY FAMILY MEMBERS

With an average of 20 military suicides per day, it is near impossible to reach our goal of creating the only online memorial of every service man and woman who killed themselves as veterans or as active duty. We endeavor to find as many as possible.

Chelsea Ann Gonzalez

My name is Joseph A. Gonzalez, my wife, a former Army officer, recently passed away. We are currently overseas at Naval station Rota in Spain. Because of her government job, I am concerned about the financial costs of her burial and transport back to the United States. Would this program be able to assist me and my family?

We have 4 children together. My wife was our family main source of income. I still have the cremation bill that is almost $3,000. Thank you for all you do.

black star for soldier suicide

Sivert Rafter

I’m reaching out to you today to see if you might be able to help or point me in the right direction of some help for myself and my two children after the suicide of their dad 8 months ago. He was receiving VA disability as well as regular disability for PTSD. He had 100% of the disability for the PTSD and another 25% for back and neck injuries. We lived off of his income between his VA disability and his regular disability.

When he committed suicide we were left with nothing. My kids got denied survivor benefits because of the fact that he had not served during an active wartime.

I just need some assistance getting back on my feet trying to find a place to live, accumulating deposits and all that is very daunting and scary for all of us, with him gone. We lived in the house with no electricity and no water for close to a month and now we’re staying with my sister which is a very temporary situation and I just don’t know where to turn.

black star for soldier suicide

Mickey Keeney

His name is Mickey Keeney. He served as 11C airborne for 8 years. He did tours in Kuwait and Panama in the 90’s. He was 42 years old when he passed away. After he got out of the military due to medical issues, his knees and back, he moved to New York where our family is, our father retired after 21 years 11B. He stayed up here in an unhealthy marriage and then they ended up moving to Georgia just outside of Ft. Stewart. He loved carpentry work so he did a lot of side jobs where he could and worked all the time on beautiful houses. While in Georgia his wife ended up leaving him and taking their 3 kids and moved to Oregon. This was devastating to him and ultimately started his downward spiral.. He ended up getting remarried and his son moved back in with him so that helped him a little. He started going to the VA because of his back and knees and potential cancer. He was up to a 45% rating and had 6 open cases to reevaluate for a higher rating, at the time of his death. Last year he was told that he would be paralyzed by the end of 2020 if he didn’t have something done to his back. This set him way back because the VA kept cancelling his appointments. He was in so much pain. Last November his son, who had then joined the military himself as a combat medic, tried committing suicide and ended up hospitalized with TBI and PTSD. He is in process of getting a medical discharge. Mickey was struggling with his marriage too. He had a lot against him. But he always had the biggest heart for other Military members, current and prior service. He advocated for veteran suicide and was always there every single time someone called him for help. He was an amazing uncle and was starting to be a better dad too. He had a hard childhood so he wasn’t the easiest person to live with… And he was very strong willed so that easily caused conflict with people in his life. But overall, there’s not a single person that doesn’t have anything good to say about him or how he’s helped them in one way or another..

For many years he has always struggled with depression/anxiety. He’s reached out for help, he’s been on meds, he’s done everything he was supposed to do. But I know sometimes those thoughts can just take over and act on impulse. He owned guns. He could openly carry in Georgia so he always had his pistol on him. Some nights he would hold it to his head and calmly ask, what if I just pull the trigger now? And we always said, shut up you’re not going to do that. And he never did.. The evening of April 15th wasn’t supposed to be any different. He had a busy day working outside in the yard and could barely move because of the pain that evening. His wife came home from work and he said “hello beautiful”. She instantly started in on him yelling at him about going into her daughters room and moving something and he argued that the dog did it and it just escalated from there. At about 5:40pm he pulled our her pistol and said, how about I just end this now?, he put it to his chin and it went off. We don’t know if it was intentional or if it was accidental because it was a smaller pistol than his and he was a bigger guy… We are telling ourselves it was accidental because that’s what’s getting us through… His wife said the look on his face when the gun went off was instant regret.. He died within a second. It was so tragic and unexpected…

The funeral home in Georgia did the embalming and transported him to Maryland for his burial. Due to the virus he wasn’t able to have the full military honors that he should have got. We did have TAPS played in a distant. Our father and Mickeys son folded the flag because they are both military and knew that process. So we did what we could to honor him. We played amazing grace at the cemetery too. We couldn’t have a lot of friends or family there either because of the virus…

I know the VA was paying $300 towards the headstone. That was part of the $1,800 my mom paid at the funeral home initially. The $6,000 that I paid was not expected to be due until life insurance was figured out but I guess because of the virus things had to be done sooner… Now we know that the VA won’t be paying anymore life insurance because he wasn’t a 100% disability rating.. I struggle with that because the PTSD was part of his disability rating and his death certificate says PTSD so I feel like he should have gotten the full life insurance.. That’s why I reached out to you guys and anyone else who would have resources for us to help pay for his funeral services. His wife may not even get her life insurance policy she had on him because of the strict no suicide rule they have for the policy… So she isn’t even able to help pay off some of the debt my mom and I are carrying. On top of all of this, I refinanced his truck so that it didn’t get repossessed. His truck was his escape from everything. He would sit in it every night and listen to music and call family and friends.

Mickey and his son who also acquired PTSD.

LTC Robert Zaza

LTC Robert N. Zaza served as the G 13 Section Chief, in support of United States Army Space and Missile Defense Command, located at Peterson Air Force Base, Colorado Springs, Colorado. Prior to his current assignment, he served as an Army Space Support Team Leader, 1st Space Battalion. He was able to hide his PTSD and his depression up until his last day. He was 55.

In March 17, 2019, his depression and PTSD moved him to commit veteran suicide. Living in New Mexico and working for the U. S. Army, his PTSD was linked to his two tours of Afghanistan. His wife recalls one story that she believes is at the heart of his PTSD. He hired a 12-year-old Afghan village boy to help distrubute food to the village. They became close and Robert was happy to help him and his family. After leaving and returning to the village one day, he found that boy strung up in a tree by the Taliban.

Robert entered his bathroom at his home in New Mexico he shared with his wife and two children, a son and a daughter, and his .38 revolver.

His wife burst into the room to stop him. Immediately, she saw him with the muzzle of the gun inside his mouth. Mrs. Zaza fought with her husband to save his life. In the struggle, an errant shot pierced her hand and then Robert’s sternum. Blood gushed from the new wound. As she dealt with the shock and pain in her own hand, and watching her husband’s life blood leaving his body, Robert successfully completed his final mission. He put the gun to his temple and fired his weapon.

Now, with 7 incidents of shock in that one incident, Mrs. Zaza suffers from the PTSD acquired during this event. She and her family know that there was two Roberts. One before PTSD and one after.

Bob and his daughter Miki 

Jarod Johns

Jarod Johns enlisted eager to serve his country and keep his family safe from the terror of 9/11 that deeply moved him. He served his tours of duty overseas and returned home a changed young man. The carefree boy who left the nest returned a hardened and frightened PTSD victim.

He shared an apartment with his twin brother in Greenville, South Carolina. Unbeknownst to his family until months after his death, inmates at a local prison were attempting to blackmail Jarod. They illegally obtained his cell phone number and sent him unsoliceted images of a young girl. His texts prove that he was doing the right thing, but his convicted blackmailers insisted he pay them or he would be exposed.

On 9/11/2018, Jarod succumbed to his PTSD and the blackmail plot against him. He recorded a video on his phone moments before his shot himself. His last words were “this is best for everyone.” His twin brother found his body later that day. The funeral home in their hometown would not allow Jarod’s family to see him until they paid $5,000.

Jarod with his Mom Kathy.

Cedrick Taylor

Cedrick Taylor enlisted in the Army right after 9/11. He loved to play baseball growing up and was an exceptional athelte. His mother was nervous about his decision to enlist, but her and her father and Cedric’s sister were proud of his decision.

Cedric served three tours in Iraq, but acquired PTSD from the IEDs and his time in country. Moving back to the states, he settled in Florida and was getting help for his PTSD and depression. He was divorced from his wife and had lost custody of his daughter. The rest of his family was still living in Connecticut. He was alone.

One week after the VA switched his psychiatrist, Cedric had enough. He went to his apartment and fired one shot into his temple. He was found days later. The VA refused to fly or help to fly his body home and he sat for days in a morgue until his family could make the payment arrangements.

Cedrick and his wife

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