The scary truth about soldier and veteran suicides
22+ Veterans a day Tombstones

Tonia Ciccone lost her son James to suicide. She had Bryan Bowman make her these yard tombstones for Halloween.

Bryan Bowman, a veteran in Ohio, posted some pictures on our Facebook the other day. We shared them. They were scary. But true. He made 22 tombstones and put them in his yard to help raise awareness of the epidemic numbers of Veterans and Soldiers who are taking their lives EVERY DAY in our country. Yes, the number is 22+ veterans. And 1 Active-Duty Soldier. Every day. That’s nearly one death per hour. How is it even possible that people aren’t raging mad about this?

The story got picked up by ABC. National coverage. People remarked that they were in awe over the numbers. Some didn’t believe it.

We spend all our time trying to educate the American public about this tragedy.

We’re even having a NATIONWIDE film event on Veterans Day to show a film that will get people talking about PTSD and suicide. You can buy tickets here and find your city or just help make the events happen by buying up tickets to any event and donating them.

It’s really sad to us at SSS that the people who are doing the educating and talking are mostly Veterans and Soldiers and their families…. when will it be a civilian who starts shouting about it? We all talked the other day about how we have NFL players wearing pink wristbands for breast cancer but we couldn’t get our PSA played by the Washington Nationals Baseball org at a game because of the subject matter?! Huh?

Is the author here angry? Yes, she is. I guess we need a celebrity to lead it off. Maybe that’d change things and people would latch on. Anybody got one we could borrow?


21 responses to “The scary truth about soldier and veteran suicides”

  1. boyd w wicks , sr says:

    22 Too Many is a group of runners who wear the pictures of the ptsd suicides , to create awareness.

    My son Chip , USMC Sgt Boyd wicks Jr. is one of them . Died feb 2004.

    They have a FB page . The contact is Keri Jacobs , an angel on earth.

    Boyd Wicks , Sr.

    Chip’s Dad

  2. laura black says:

    RIP to Chip. We’re fighting every day to help stop these tragic deaths.

  3. Thank you for this, but we also need to stress how very important it is to not say ‘committed’ suicide. Those who die by suicide did not commit a crime. We don’t say that someone who died from cancer ‘committed’ cancer. Please spread the word that we should say ‘died by suicide’.

  4. Sarah Oliver says:

    Sad but true. So many don’t understand the importance of getting the word out. I am one of those mothers whose son was one of the 22 a day on July 31, 2012 at the age of 20. Forever my hero that paid the ultimate price in my eyes. Our soldiers and veterans desperately need our help to get the word out and get them help instead of turning them away.

  5. Sarah Oliver says:

    RIP Chip

  6. laura black says:

    Sarah, I am so sorry to hear about your son. Go to our page and find TC BC posts and reach out. Tonia lost her son in 2012 too. You guys could talk. Together I hope we can change what’s happening. We just have to stick together, keep talking, even when no one wants to hear us.

  7. laura black says:

    We agree. That language we hope will start to catch on and the idea of “committing” suicide will fade away. We have such big battles to fight here though with just getting people to even talk about the problem. I think it’s slowly changing, we just all need to stick together and talk about it. Even when people cover their ears and look away. Thank you Stacey for speaking up!

  8. Antiobe says:

    There are over 900 military suicide prevention programs that are being funded.The majority of these programs did not go through the peer reviewed protocol that is a standard. The latest is a 65 million dollar computerized identified program that was not peer reviewed, and the biggest question; why are veterans suicides continuing to rise. Enough is enough what if we fight our wars the way they are approaching suicides (hit or miss).

  9. laura black says:

    Good question. We are non-funded cause at the moment that survives on donations. No one takes a salary at Stop Soldier Suicide. Our board is all ex military. We’re here to truly help connect veterans and soldiers with the resources needed to take some of the burden and stress off their plates. It’s those burdens that can often lead to ideas of suicide…. the straw that broke the camel’s back so to speak. Hope we can just keep people talking about the problems so more help is offered. REAL help that is. Which is why we’re hosting the film nationwide. To educate people and to get them talking.

  10. Antione says:

    My story began in 2009; after 10 years working as a Cognitive Educator teaching and training people identified with serious emotional and behavior disorders( PTSD, bipolar, anxiety, social phobia,depression, ect…) I decided to venture out to help veterans with these same issues. After 4 yrs I have not gotten any where. I crated a state-of-the-art relaxation center; we served over 350 military and families. Then I designed a training program that helped veterans of four generations. We operated for two years and had to close our doors. I have since written a book to help pay off all my outstanding bills and possibly reopen the center. The saddest part of this story is that our center worked! We made every attempt to get funded only to be denied. Maybe you can help me to promote this book to military members and their families.

  11. laura black says:

    This is amazing. We will make sure to post your story on our FB page and Tweet it. I personally honor you for this!

  12. laura black says:

    This has been posted on Facebook:

  13. Terry Murphy says:

    My step son Sgt Matthew J. Tindall served two tours overseas. First in Kosovo, then Afghanistan. He never left Afghanistan behind. He had PTSD, had horrible nightmares….we tried convincing him for the last 2 years to get help, he stated that all they would do is give him pills, and he didnt want that. He turned instead to alcohol. When I told him the alcohol was out of control, he told me that at least he didnt dream when he drank until he passed out. A week before Christmas, he said he was ready to get help. We contacted our local VA office and they gave us a phone number for him to call, which would in turn call him back with an appointment. He promised to make that call right after Christmas. Christmas Day our son took his own life. His inactive part of his enlistment ended 8 days before his death. 3 days after his death, I received his honorable discharge certificate in the mail among all the sympathy cards. I was notified by the VA today that since Matt didnt get a disability rating from the VA for his PTSD, that he did not even quality for the standard $300.00 death benefit. This makes me ill. As a peace time veterans myself, I cannot believe that the country that my son literally gave his life for has turned their back on him. I am without words..

  14. laura black says:

    Terry, this is the worst part of what we do here at SSS. Hearing that a soldier was not able to be saved. We are so very sorry for you and your family and for Matthew. It’s a complex issue and you did all you could. His PTSD won unfortunately. We understand your anger at the system. It isn’t fair. Did you inquire about any life insurance or policy we believe all soldiers sign when they go into service? There is even a suicide clause that pays off in the event of suicide. Not that it’s the money you are after, but you should check. We will keep doing all we can to help stop these senseless deaths and are even working with the VA where we can. Please contact us if there is anything we can do for you. The group, TAPS, is a great organization for those left grieving. Tragedy ASsistance Program for SUrvivors

  15. Terry murphy says:

    We checked into that as well and also got a no. Since he no longer had to go to monthly drills the insurance stopped. They could still however still call him to deploy again up until December 17th just 8 short days before his death.

  16. laura black says:

    Terry, that makes me sick too. Call your congressman. Tell this story. It’s a story that MUST be heard.

  17. Gary Hays says:

    Today is my son Steven’s birthday. He would have been 38. In August 2013 he disappeared. In November his body was located deep in the woods, a single gunshot to the temple. Steven was a fifteen year Army Veteran who served 2 tours in Iraq and 2 tours in Afghanistan. He was medically retired as a “Wounded Warrior,” and lasted in the civilian world, less than a year. Recovery for us is not possible, just as it is not possible for any parent having faced this type of tragedy. Steven’s best friend in the Army died the same type of self-inflicted death, almost a year to the day prior. Our son was Army strong and would not seek help, viewing this a sign of weakness. When he came home to us he was addicted to prescription pain medicine. The Army kept him medicated for well over three years. He complained to them once about the addictive nature of what he was taking so the Army changed prescriptions to a different addictive drug. After a year he complained about that so the Army put him back on his original medication.

    Steven had little enthusiasm when he returned home. He worked out of necessity to supplement his small medical pension (30%) but had difficulty holding a job for very long. He finally found a position in the same career field as he had in the Army, but only lasted a couple of weeks before walking off the job. He did not tell us he had quit his job and led us to believe he was still working and things were going fine. We didn’t find out until it was too late that he had been pawning nearly everything he owned. He then created a crime by robbing a liquor store. This was so out of character for him. In his goodbye note he said we would never know why he had done that. By the way, the Sherriff’s Department kept his goodbye note for the entire time he was missing, so we never had a chance to read it until after the fact. My V.A. Therapist, whom I see, told me he probably committed the crime as an assurance to himself that he would not back out of the suicide. It’s the only explanation that makes any sense.

    After my son passed, I found that his bank account had been canceled because of being consistently overdrawn, and his checks were being returned to the government, since they could not be deposited. I contacted the finance department to see about receiving the money that had been due to our son, especially since we have yet to receive any benefits whatsoever from the Army and nearly went broke from the expenses we had to incur. I’m retired and live on social security. Because of the three month disappearance, they told me I had to track down a couple of my sons friends and get written statements attesting to the last time they saw him “alive and kicking.” They REALLY said that to me. Because of my son’s disappearance, his date of death is listed as “date found.” I asked why they needed such statements and was told it was what they would use to determine his date of death for pay purposes. How very omnipotent of them! His date of death is undeterminable. I’ve also waited five months for the measly $300 death benefit and still have not received it. The Army can bend over and insert that benefit up their camouflaged rear ends. They have no respect whatsoever for deceased soldiers and have proven to me they view military members as disposable and replaceable. I served for fourteen years and they now have me embarrassed that I did. I would take back my service if possible.

    Steven obviously was not himself. He was a kind, gentle and peace loving man. His overdrawn bank account, pawing everything, robbing a store……all so very out of character. Of course I have heard stories of other returning soldiers doing things that were way out of character, as well. When will this madness stop? We continue sending our youth to a senseless war and then release them from duty with a simple “Thank you for your service.” I’ve learned to hate that meaningless expression.

    I will never have my son back, just as some of you reading this will never have your child back. For us, life must somehow continue. This senseless war must stop.

  18. laura black says:

    This is a tragic story Gary. You’ve been treated terribly and disrespected as a grieving father with a son who served his country for a long time. There’s no excuse for the things that have been done to your family or said to you by the government. It’s sickening to me personally.

    The over medication of our men/women returning home is ridiculous and we’re trying to advocate for other methods. We’re not saying pharmaceuticals aren’t right or can’t help, but there are alternative therapies as well. I know it’s too late for your son, but being an advocate as well will help. We have to keep shouting at the top of our lungs about this to enact change. We’re chipping away at it. Help us chip away too if you can. I know it’s a thorn in your heart at this point, but we need all the help we can get.

  19. Strahlen says:

    I’m a single mom of 5 boys whose husband left suddenly during the surprise pregnancy of our 5th little guy. We lost our home and so much, but we have each other and the freedom to rebuild again thanks only to the protection of God and our US Military.
    I know know our lives would be VERY different in most other areas of the world, and I know that some of our Military may not feel like heroes, but you are to my boys and me. We need you. We appreciate you, and we know you are not perfect. No one is. I cannot imagine our lives without you though, and I pray for you every day. Please hang in there and know you are Loved.
    God Bless…

  20. laura black says:

    thank you for your story and we hope you guys can make a new life. Thank you for supporting the military and our cause.

  21. Patty M. says:

    My heart is breaking so hard when I hear of our soldiers dying from suicide. I could never cry enough tears for the loss to mankind. I know that every man and woman who serve in our military are prepared to make the selfless sacrifice for the higher good of freedom and protecting this country. A country they love with a patriotism and call to duty that is unknown to those they serve. May I suggest that beside the Tomb of the Unknown Soldier there be a Tomb of the Forgotten Soldier? Or something to that effect, with their names visible?

    On a less personal level, we are seeing, by these suicides, the product of our military being down-sized too drastically in response to lack of sufficient budgeting. This pays a heavy toll on our service members by causing the necessity to activate our National Guard and Reserves to supplement war efforts. Soldiers are doing multiple tours back-to-back with little time to recover their personal lives back home.

    When I see a wife hugging a returning veteran on TV I am so proud of her for keeping her love for him. When I see a child running to their dad back from the war I see the beauty of what his father stands for and the sacrifice he made. When I hear of a soldier’s suicide I wonder if he lost his wife and his children. Did he lose his home? Was his job not there anymore? Is he physically maimed for life?

    To prevent a soldier’s suicide, it is important to know what a soldier is. I can tell you about the soldier I’ve been married to for 30 years. He identifies with being the provider and protector of the only thing he can love: his family. He is as traditional as a cave man and he, too, did not seek help when he returned from Vietnam. He had just spent two years being the MMF in the valley (sorry) only to find himself cowering in the closet from nightmares back home. He turned to alcohol and hasn’t stopped since. BUT, he only starts drinking after work or, now that he’s retired, at 4pm every day, without fail; never before. In my book, that is not an alcoholic.

    When he was evaluated by a VA psychiatrist in 2010 for PTSD, the doctor said he should have a 100% rating. Other than work “friends”, together these 30 years we have never had friends. When I lose him, I lose my only friend. I call him “my rock”, as I’m sure every soldier is to somebody. He is so steadfast, consistent and practical. He doesn’t even have a blip of a mood change. The house could be on fire and he’ll be calm as a cucumber. I’ve seen this when he was the PM in Panama virtually running the country for three years while dealing with its corruption and drug cartels. He’d come home late every night and sit in his chair, kind of vibrating because the days were so intense.

    A soldier who has experienced combat like he has thrives on intensity, they are calm under fire not from experience, but because that is how they are. The adrenaline is rushing through their veins like a volcano and they are definitely in the flight or fight mode. Those two things go together: adrenaline, flight/fight mode. Together. Well, a soldier only knows the fight mode. Not just in this situation such as combat, but in all situations. That is what I meant when I said calm under fire is how they are, not what they learn. My husband started beating up bullies at school in the first grade who were picking on weaker kids. He did this all through to 12th grade. He wears the white hat knowing he can right wrongs and sees it as an obligation to follow through when he can. He was beating up bullies all the time; by the time he graduated high school he was a seasoned “schoolyard” fighter.

    I think the best place for a veteran is to stay in the Army or close to it in an occupation that interacts with active duty. My husband ended his enlistment after Vietnam, but reentered into ROTC at college and graduated an officer. He changed from Infantry to Military Police, rifles to pistols. This served his PTSD because he could still stand up for what was right, fight for it, and often make real changes for the better.

    In the military, you know exactly who does what and how to get it. It is the largest industry in the U.S. with the smoothest-running most efficient bureaucracy in the world. Yet, it instills and maintains a community feeling for the active duty and their families that is incomparable anywhere else and defines what is the “military sector” versus the “private sector”. When my husband retired in 1993 and entered the private sector, I had a nervous breakdown six months later due to the conditions I was exposed to at the job I had in the big city. For the ten years we spent active duty I felt safe and unthreatened. That disappeared.

    My husband found at his private sector job his palms sweating and his heart racing. When he got like that he would take a fast walk for a mile or so and his heartbeat would slow down. It was the PTSD. Meaning, at this job, when he felt something was wrong, his adrenaline would release (it releases easier/faster than normal because of constant use during two years of combat) into his body and this put him in the flight or fight mode. In the private sector, you don’t get to fight or even have your say sometimes when you feel something is wrong. Mind you, it wasn’t the wrongs toward him; it was always wrongs to his employees or other staff. The inability to correct these wrongs, to see them continue, and being unable to use his “fight” mode, left the adrenaline in his system physiologically and this caused the sweating palms and heart racing. A private psychiatrist gave him 1mg Klonipin twice a day. This is his chill pill. Now that he is retired, he takes half that. Klonipin is also addictive, but he refused to increase the dose. That is the soldier in him, as I read in a comment above. Klonipin is an anti-anxiety drug. He also takes Lunesta 3mg to help him fall asleep. He also takes Prazosin HCL 4mg a night to prevent nightmares. He is in chronic pain but refuses more than one pain pill a day. I strongly suggest, for those veterans with PTSD, that a charity be created or include providing private mental healthcare to psychiatrists for medicine and psychologists for therapy. The VA is, at this time, a rather questionable source for a soldier suffering from PTSD. A mental disorder is not to be taken lightly or incompetently; a life is at risk. If a family can afford it, they, too, may consider the expense of a private psychiatrist for evaluation, monitoring and medications.

    I apologize for the length of my comment. I have so much to say I haven’t even touched on. I suffer from depression and have had suicidal thoughts. I have pages of how I handle my depressions and the accompanying negative thoughts that I realize now are a product of the depression, not of me. Briefly, there are signs family members can look for with both depression and suicidal thoughts. I will put them in another comment. Every veteran that has died from suicide, had suicidal thoughts first (before a suicidal act). Before he had those thoughts, he was in a depression. A soldier in a depression will reach its next stage (suicidal thoughts) and the stage after that (suicidal act) much faster than the average person. Why? Because a soldier’s character is so wholesome, so selfless and humanitarian that without having this role to identify with they feel useless (without being in a depression). My husband has said how useless he feels now that he is so disabled his only activities are reading, watching TV and sleeping. He has told me he feels like all he is living for is the monthly disability check; that it is all he represents now. That is a pretty hollow feeling.

    When you add a depression to a veteran with PTSD you now have a volatile mental condition that will quickly develop suicidal thoughts. On top of that, most veterans have easy access to pistols. My husband has a gun by his bed and 2 guns by his chair in the living room. All are locked and loaded. They are there for our safety, but you see what I mean. The VA is not taking into account these considerations or the veteran’s circumstances be they losing a wife, family or job.

    If any veterans with PTSD are reading this, I would love for you to meet my husband. Right now he’s in his lazy boy with a blanket over him, flossing his teeth and wearing his 173D Airborne Brigade cap. If you walked in the door, he would stand up, shake your hand hard, and say, “Stand tall, soldier. Always forward.”

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Author: laura black
Date: October 25, 2013
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