Suicide Prevention Month. Veterans, remember, you are never alone.

Article author Shawn Jones is a 20-year Veteran of the Air Force and Army, now retired. He has a Bachelor’s degree in psychology and his Master’s degree in Social Work. He writes this article to his brothers and sisters in arms so they know there is a place to turn to, no matter what.

As we all know, this is National Suicide Prevention month, but what I am writing here is for any time you’re feeling hopeless, helpless or alone. (Or if you know a loved one who is suffering, share this with them.)

I have been a part of Stop Soldier Suicide for a little over a month as the Triage Director taking calls and cries for help. In this short time, one common phrase  I hear frequently is, “I feel like I am all alone.” 

I am here to tell you that is the farthest thing from the actual truth.  One of the biggest misnomers for those who are suffering from the invisible wounds of war or who are contemplating suicide is that they are alone and that it is weak to ask for help. This is just your belief, it is not the reality of the situation.

NoManLeftBehindWe are taught in the military that selfless service is a core value.  That we must focus on the issues of the overall mission and those under our charge. Oftentimes, this leaves us unable to focus on ourselves, which leads to our problems festering and growing until we feel those problems are insurmountable.  All of which keeps us from seeking and receiving services that can positively affect every facet of our lives such as our career, friendships, and most importantly, relationships with loved ones. 

I want to let you know that hope is always there and it is never too late to ask for help.

I know, too, that those of us who have served feel those who have never been in the military or experienced combat don’t understand–and this might be true to a certain extent.  But I can tell you though that there are millions of patriotic supporters who are willing to listen to your story and aid you.  They may never have experienced what you have gone through, however they can learn from you while providing some comfort and understanding of the hidden wounds that you bear. 

There are also many Veteran organizations throughout our great country with active duty and Veteran staff that want to stand shoulder to shoulder with you and help you in identifying the assistance you need.  These are fellow brothers and sisters in arms that have seen and been through, on some level, situations that you have experienced. 

So if you see a Veteran, retiree, active duty, guard or reserve member that looks in distress go over to them and let them know that you are going to help them lace up their boot straps tight and take some of that weight off their backs from that rucksack.  We are a brother/sisterhood like no other and we must stand together and help one another through the darkest of times.   I speak with the experience of 20 years in the service as an enlisted man and a retiree that has provided psychotherapy, so I have been on both sides of the coin.  There is always someone that you can reach out to for help. 

As you are moving forward to gain insight and engage the demons that are holding you back, know that we’ve got your six.  




6 responses to “Suicide Prevention Month. Veterans, remember, you are never alone.”

  1. Patty M says:

    I’ve been married to a Vietnam veteran for 30 years. He was in the 173rd Airborne Brigade from 1969-1970 and the 101st the following year. He is a seasoned combat soldier and served as a patrol leader of a killer team, usually 6-10 men. I haven’t asked him, but I think he lost over 25 men. He served as the medic on his patrols, saving as many men with his medical training. He has told me a lot of stories and has had an amazing, interesting life so far. He came back from Vietnam with PTSD (currently VA rated at 50%) he would be woken by his first wife, finding himself tucked into the corner of the bedroom closet, screaming and shaking. He drinks every night from 4pm until he falls asleep. He still has nightmares despite the alcohol. I never nagged him about the drinking. It doesn’t get in the way, honestly. It just helps him brave falling asleep. He went to college after the war and graduated the DMG, becoming an officer in the MP Corps. His career includes being the PM during the Panama invasion in 1989, another tour that added to his mental woes, but of which he performed with usual perfection and dedication. His military career included many special operations that are still classified.

    He retired with 26 years as a Major; he is a highly decorated soldier with a Bronze Star, Purple Heart, two Air Medals, four MSMs, and others. After Panama he was going to be awarded the Legion of Merit, but this was thwarted (another story). He entered the security field in the private sector which included 12 years as a Regional Vice President managing the operations of toll roads in the southern half of Florida. He had to medically retire in 2008 when, working as a security guard that required walking, his spine just fell apart. He is 100% disabled now and unemployable due to his service-connected disabilities. He is 100% CRSD and was exposed to Agent Orange. He has more ailments than I can count on both hands.

    His retirement now consists of being able to do only the activity of sitting, no more walking than about 30 yards until he is in terrible pain and has to sit down, and being able to stand for no more than 5 minutes until he is again in pain. Unlike a loss of limb, he can’t replace his legs with new ones, his spine is so bad it is inoperable and he has to keep his scooter on smooth surfaces and he is a high fall risk with what might be degeneration of his thoracic spine area. Well, he stays home except for doctor appointments. He reads, watches TV or naps. He is in good spirits and has kept his sense of humor, but for the life of our marriage I did not receive affection or emotional support from him. I didn’t know him before Vietnam, but I am with the man that came back and accept him as he is. I just can’t love him enough.

    We believe his PTSD stems from two things in his combat experience. One, the exorbitant amount of adrenaline that is released to survive a combat encounter. And, two, the sights, sounds and smells of war and death that were pushed back while he was at war, only to come rushing to the forefront in his sleep once he returned home, “safe”. He didn’t ever consider suicide, but he also wasn’t married with kids when he got back from the war. He lived at home for the first few months, fighting with his dad a lot, before getting his own apartment and going to college. He married a year or so later (his first marriage) that he told me was more reactionary from the loneliness of war. His first two years back he didn’t make friends and had nothing to relate to talk about to his peers. All he knew was war and except for one fellow combat soldier, the rest of his men had died or deros’d wounded. When his first best friend of the war died, he didn’t befriend anyone more soldiers. He led them to their death, saving as many as he could. His uniform would be soaked in their blood that may take a couple days before he got to a stream to clean it. But his hands didn’t clean as quick, with blood in the creases and cuticles.

    I’ve often wondered how he couldn’t have had suicidal thoughts immediately following the war, but I see in him the character of a soldier. What makes him so strong, I think, was that he never discarded that identity. He is dedicated to carrying the souls of his men who died in their remembrance. He does worry about his own death because of the many men he has killed as a soldier; he calls them his “shadows”. I’ve often felt he has lived so austerely and rigid upright because of what he experienced and the man he had to be in Vietnam, hoping for forgiveness and mercy.

    As his wife, having a pretty good idea what he was like based on his stories, I spoil him for the good man he is, for the man I married, but also for the veteran he was that I never knew. For all veterans, for what they experienced that becomes a part of them forever, I realize you are the survivors of a war. The only other possibility to be having died in the war. My husband is a survivor, yes, but a part of him died in the war that he does without as he went on with the rest of his life. I can’t thank him enough for that. It is a privilege and an honor to be a part of his life, to be his wife. Our two daughters can’t think enough of him as they came to understand why he isn’t like their friends’ fathers.

    To conclude, I’ll say this, I’m proud I was born on Veteran’s Day.

  2. Beverly Hittle says:

    What a great article- I LOVE you and I am so proud of you! Mom

  3. Dear Mrs Patty M:
    What a beautiful testiment to the sacrifice and suffering of our combat vets. Thank you for sharing your story. Welcome
    Home Vets was established to provide free mental health services to combat vets and their families. Stories like yours I spire us to keep doing this important work.

  4. I would say to all,please read these words.treat our heros with the respect they deserve.understanding love for all who have been through hell need to come home to the people that they we do not suffer the evil that they have faced and walked straight through to serve our country.

  5. Patty M says:

    Thanks, Beverly and Debbie.

    I thought of something I want to share to the wives of veterans from the war. My husband has told me a lot about his past, including his childhood and high school years. I feel I know how he was then at 18 and who he became at 21. I remember the night I knew he was going to be my husband. We were having a fight. I got out of the car and he started to drive away. I looked at the car, then it came to a stop. He put it in reverse and came back to where I was standing. I opened the door and looked at him. That was the moment. I saw character, strong character.

    What I’m trying to say, is I have an idea who or how my husband was before the war. He was more alive, more animated and more excited with expectations. That is gone now. It has been since we were married. Our first daughter received a 4-year ROTC scholarship; our second daughter was contacted by West Point. This was from their ASFABs, but they didn’t want to go military. Our youngest daughter is very much like him. But, in addition to the intelligent and practical nature, she is vibrant with life. She is a Mechanical Engineer working in secret operations with a technology company. She does a handful of things at once, she gardens, she works out real heavy, she’s swam the Potamac, been in triathalons, fly fishes and does much of her own DIY at home. She bore her first child naturally who, only six months old, already is precocious and reminds us of my husband, too.

    The “who” of my husband hasn’t changed since he was born. He is a born leader and a born soldier. He has all the qualities that come with that: the ability to empower, to earn the respect of men and demand of himself some of the highest standards I’ve seen. The “how,” however, has changed. How he is explains his behavior, actions or non-actions, his words/lack of words. I can’t leave him for “how” he is. It is “who” he is that I love and give meaning to my love and care for him. I am his care provider.

    Every wounded veteran lives a soldier’s death. My husband’s service/combat-connected wounds are with him the day he walked off the battlefield. The mental ones were there right away. The physical ones came later. He reached a point, when he was about to retire for that golden age, that his physical wounds came back and have left him almost housebound and unable to do even the smallest physically demanding things. He knew one year of combat takes 10 years off your life. And, it does. He is 63; he knows he won’t see 80.

    It is hard for me, as a wife and a woman, to not receive affection. In our 30 years, I’ve received about 5 compliments, 2 times received flowers (the first time I asked him if someone gave them to him from work), and 2 pieces of jewelry (our 1st and 2nd anniversaries). My emotional support from him as his care provider is, and this is from him: saying “thank yous”. I asked him how I can give or show him emotional support. Besides taking care of him, he also said “walking the dogs”. You see the contrast? It tells me he is unable to gather the emotion is requires to be intimate, soft and cuddly. That is, in part, the PTSD. Maybe some is just him–he is definitely a Mars man.

    Over the years he made me independent. There is not much I can’t do as far as caring for a home, finances, etc. He did so on purpose and believes it to be a mistake when husbands don’t do that for their wives. Some women may take that independence and leave the husband who provided it. I didn’t because my perspective was that what I could do alone gave us more time together to do funner things. Everything is perspective.

  6. laura black says:

    These comments are heart breaking but also so courageous. As a leader on the Stop Soldier Suicide team, I want to thank you for baring your souls in these stories. The bravery it has taken for your husbands to be Warriors and come home only to keep on having to fight is remarkable. The bravery of wives to care give, to love, to accept it undeniably inspiring. You are in my personal thoughts and prayers. And if we can do anything to help your husbands’ let us know. We are here to serve.

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Author: Shawn Jones
Date: September 2, 2014
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