This is a blog from a friend, Pam Garnett, of SPC James Medige. His brother sent it to us to honor Jim who took his life on August 16, 2014, and in the hopes this story can help save others in their time of need.
AUTHOR: Pam Garnett (See original article)
The day that I heard that I’d gotten the job of opinions section editor for this great little paper of ours, I was overjoyed. I knew I’d have a lot of fun and that I’d learn a lot and work with some great people along the way.
I thought about what I’d write my first column about while I poked around my unimpressive vegetable garden this summer, occasionally sending an update on my lackluster bounty to my friend Jim, who would send me photos of the little garden figures he made committing foul acts amid his vegetables in return.
Never once did I think I’d be sitting here now, a few hours after the candlelight vigil for that very same Jim, about to tell you about my incredibly funny friend and the injustices that took him from us at the age of 32.
I, like the rest of the world, was side swept by the news of actor Robin Williams’ tragic suicide. I, like the rest of the world, wondered how someone so full of joy and humor, could also feel so alone in the world that he would end his own life. I, like the rest of the world, vowed to look a little deeper at the people around me, because you just “never know.” We all did that, right? I mean, he was Robin Williams!
It was just a few days later, on Saturday, August 24th that I came back from a long run at Destruction Brook to a text message from my friend Kim that she was seeing “RIP” messages posted on Jim’s Facebook wall. “Not possible” I thought.
There were no news articles to be found but his step-brother reached out and confirmed my worst fear: my sweet, silly friend Jim had taken his life in the parking lot of his local VA hospital after apparently being turned away in his hour of need for one final, heartbreaking time.
Jim is gone, just like that. He died alone, angry and hopeless just months after giving an interview on the state of VA care and saying of his dismissed complaints to the VA hotline, “Once again, It feels like I’m just a small guy getting swept under the rug.” I imagine Jim felt pretty small then, and when I imagine that- I get furious. How could this happen?
Jim’s death comes on the heels of President Obama signing VA reform into law. The new law allows temporary funding to allow veterans to seek private care while the VA, presumably, hires more staff and fires ineffective leadership.
Any veteran will tell you this is a start, but it isn’t nearly enough. Poor care is only one problem, the other lies in the VA’s unacceptable handling of traumatic brain injury, depression and post-traumatic stress disorder. These combat-related problems should be treated with the same urgency and careful monitoring of any visible physical injury.
There are over 2.3 million veterans of Iraq and Afghanistan and it’s estimated that 20 percent of them suffer from PTSD and/or depression. Half of those soldiers will not seek any treatment, likely due to the stigma attached to mental illness which paints it as weakness. This is a huge problem, not just for soldiers, but for all of us.
When celebrities like Robin Williams who seemingly have everything choose to end their lives in the same manner as a forgotten soldier desperate for relief from the horrors of war, isn’t it time to treat depression like the serious condition that it is? Had that VA taken Jim seriously, I might be getting shirtless garden selfies from Jim right now instead of writing about him in the past tense.
PTSD, TBI and depression treatment should be at the top of the VA’s shiny new priority list. Counselors should be available around the clock, no exceptions. Better yet, veterans should have the option of choosing where they receive their care.
The new law allows for that temporarily, but the voucher system of care is reportedly only temporary during the implementation of the emergency funds. The families of soldiers lost to this mistreatment also point to privacy laws that prevent family from getting information or intervening as a contributing factor to more problems.
All of my anger brought me through news article after news article featuring veterans seeking care from the VA being turned away, made to wait weeks for appointments and treated with dangerous drug cocktails that provide little relief and often, more issues.
I read about Daniel Howard, a veteran of the National Guard, who had trouble right from the start with the VA questioning his veteran status, stalling his care for months. One night, much like Jim did, Daniel went into the VA for help and was told there were no beds available. Daniel lay on the floor and wept, pleading for help. Help was not granted and Daniel took his life, much like Jim did.
One article said 22 veterans commit suicide per day in this country. How much higher does that number have to be before our government truly steps up? When I asked this, a good friend of mine said, “the military doesn’t need veterans, it only needs soldiers.”
I’m not sure how well the employees on shift at the VA the night that Jim died have slept since watching my friend walk out of their doors, but I’ve hardly slept at all. I stood with a white candle tonight in the woods, surrounded by broken hearts that loved this beautiful person like me, and I promised Jim that I’d find something to do to pass his final message along.
I promised him that he wasn’t alone that night. I promised him that we all heard him.
Whether it’s a beloved celebrity or just a guy I knew, one life lost to suicide is one life too many. If we must remain in combat (and I have opinions on this, dear reader, I assure you) than we must provide the absolute best care available to the people who fight for this government.
By neglecting these soldiers, the government is not just being inhumane, it is unraveling the core belief these men and women have that they suffered for a good cause. Our soldiers wade into horrors without complaint because they feel that they are doing so for a country that will be there for them afterward.
The government remains all too happy to take, take, take from its servicemen and woman and then leaves them to rot in a nest of pill bottles. I want you to get angry with me. Write your senators. Write the President who I’m sure will read your letter in between golf swings. Don’t wait for this issue to become personal like I did.
But perhaps most importantly, call up a friend you haven’t heard from in a while. If you know a veteran, ask them how they are today. This last step won’t change any laws, I assure you, but it’s the one step I wish I could take just one more time.
IF YOU OR A LOVED ONE NEEDS HELP, PLEASE REACH OUT TO STOP SOLDIER SUICIDE OR IF IN CRISIS:
VA Crisis Line: 1-800-273-8255, then press 1
Online chat: veteranscrisisline.net (Click on “Confidential Veterans Chat” box at top of Web page.) These services provide counseling and referral assistance for veterans in crisis over suicidal thoughts, homelessness, relationship issues, chronic pain and other issues.
More information on the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline is at: suicidepreventionlifeline.org