Promoted from the Ricochet Member Feed by Editors Created with Sketch. Dear President Trump, Senate Leader McConnell, and Speaker Pelosi

 

There is a silent epidemic impacting our bravest and finest citizens, their families and friends; Those who served in the United States Military are more likely to die from suicide than on the battlefield.

According to the US Department of Veterans Affairs, each day there are around 20 veterans who commit suicide. What’s more, they report that veterans’ suicides account for 18 percent of the suicide deaths in the country, while they only make up 8.5 percent of the adult population. Even more disturbing is how many US soldiers who attempt suicide often have no history of mental health issues.

While politicians and our media focus attention on protecting those who may not even be US citizens, we are letting down the patriotic individuals who sacrificed everything for our great country.

I respectfully ask you to read this letter from my good friend Matt, in his own unfiltered words. While heartbreaking, we can use this as motivation to double down our efforts and use our resources to reach out to those who may be silently hurting. Many veterans have trouble with PTSD and/or have not been able to successfully integrate back into society, work and family.

Thank you.

My name is Matt, I am a former Marine and combat veteran. I served two tours in Iraq, once for the invasion in 2003 and once again in 2004. All total, I spent 18 months in Iraq and I experienced some of the bloodiest urban combat in Marine Corps history since Hue City, Vietnam in 1968. I spent a total of five years in the Corps and I served with some of the finest men I have ever known, men that I call brothers to this very day. Some of those brothers died in combat, they died serving their country and fighting not for God, Country or Corps; but for their brothers.

My fallen brothers were and continue to be, my heroes. I have a tremendous sense of pride, knowing that I was able to serve alongside some of the finest citizens this country has produced in my generation. As much as it pains me to know that they were killed in combat, I knew that they went out doing what they loved and were trained to do. They took one for the team, they went out fighting.

General George S. Patton said that “there’s only one proper way for a professional soldier to die: the last bullet of the last battle of the last war.” I think that he was and continues to be right, but with a slight alteration. A Soldier or Marine grunt wants to go out swinging; they want to die in a firefight, not of a heart attack or vehicle accident. They want to go out on top; they want to be in control of their destiny. Therefore, to correct General Patton, when Soldiers and Marines are killed, they just want to die in combat.

I have lost ten of my Brothers in combat. Some of whom I knew very well, others who I did not, but none of the less, I knew them all and was serving with each and every one of them when they died. This causes me grief and pain to this day, but I take comfort in the fact that they died for my brothers, for cherry pie and Jack Daniels whiskey and me; or so we like to say.

What really causes me grief, however, is those that I have lost to suicide. As of October 2018, I have lost more brothers to suicide than I have Brothers killed in combat. This past Thursday, January 17, 2019, I lost another one. All of them had a family, all of them had friends, and all of them had contact with most of us from the Corps.

I am hurt and I am frustrated because I understand their pain. I understand what grief and frustration they feel or felt. When I got out of the Marines in 2005, they sent me to what they called “Transition Assistance Program” classes. For 3 days, I sat down in a room with a bunch of other Marines from the rank of Private First Class, all the way up to a Major. We were told to address each other by our first names only; as we were all about to be equals in the civilian sector. For three days, I learned how to be a civilian again. However, I was taught and trained how to be a combat Marine for five YEARS. For the past five years, I was trained in several jobs, all pertaining to the destruction of an armed enemy force. As Hollywood likes to say, I was trained to kill.

When I was driving home, the day that I got my DD-214, I had to stop because I was crying. I was alone, afraid, unsure about my future and I had this tremendous feeling of betrayal. I felt like I was betraying my brothers who were still in and getting ready for their next deployment to Iraq. I was supposed to have gotten out of the Corps one year earlier, but I volunteered for another tour in Iraq (my second deployment in 2004) because I could not let my boys go to war again without me. The only reason why I did not reenlist and go back for more was that my family talked me out of it. That decision still bugs me to this day.

I struggled and sometimes still struggle, about how in the Hell I was able to walk out of Iraq, more or less intact. How come I wasn’t killed? How come I never lost a limb? How come I survived almost daily rocket and mortar attacks during my second tour? Survivor’s guilt was strong and it was a sneaky devilish thought on my shoulder. Who can I talk to about my struggles? I can’t talk to my family, they would never understand, they can try all they want but in the end, they will never truly understand what it feels like. How do I deal with not only seeing the dead enemy but more importantly, how do deal with seeing my Brothers mangled bodies?

One time during my second tour, a tank had come onto our firm base and it had just been hit with an RPG. The TC (tank commander) had taken the hit to his head. I was helping the crew get out of the tank, and was walking around the TC hatch and I accidentally hit a helmet laying on the turret. It was the TC’s helmet and was filled blood and it spilled all over my boot and pieces of his brain splattered on my boots too. I was completely safe and nothing happened to me, but this man, whom I did not know was now dead and I was wearing some of his brains on my boots. I still have nightmares about that today. I have nightmares of all kinds of things, some of which I have never experienced. I have nightmares that I am driving around an Iraqi city, in a civilian car, unarmed and I am driving through an ambush but all they were shooting at with was tanks armed with weaponized camel spiders. Google camel spiders and you will totally understand my fear of those things.

That is just a sliver of my experiences. My point is that I completely understand why some of my Brothers want to end their lives. They have demons just like me. Demons can get the best of some people and others just smile at them and go on with their lives.

Where I get frustrated and hurt, is when my Brothers and even those Combat Vet Brothers that I never served with, but are now very good friends of mine, decide that the best option for them is to end it. I get it, I have thought about suicide. I have thought to myself that just killing myself would solve all my problems and I could take the burden of dealing with me and my [expletive] away from my loved ones. But then I think about my kids, my family, my friends and every single person that would be inflicted with a lifelong supply of pain and agony, never-ending questions as to why I did what I did and why I didn’t ask for help.

Suicide is not ending your pain; it is pawning it off on people that love and support you. It makes your kids wonder if they did anything to make you do this. They have no idea and they would have a lifetime of dealing with that loss.

I get hurt and I take it personally when they go because I am left with a void that they decided would be acceptable to me. I am left without them in my life, to see or talk to, to hang out with, to celebrate the Marine Corps Birthday with, to celebrate the holidays with, to just hanging out and think about the good times we had and even the bad times. I cherish these memories.

Suicide is a very serious plague on our community. 22 Veterans on average, kill themselves every day. There is not one perfect solution to this problem and I am not smart enough to solve them on my own. What I do know is that our current system is failing us Veterans. We cannot just continue to throw money at this problem and expect results. We, as Veterans, are used to being reliant on each other for support. At some point, we have to put the onus on ourselves to help each other.

Stop giving up on each other and ourselves. I am tired, so damn tired, of having my heart and soul broken.

There are 17 comments.

Become a member to join the conversation. Or sign in if you're already a member.
  1. Aaron Miller Member
    Aaron Miller Joined in the first year of Ricochet Ricochet Charter Member

    War has not changed. War was always brutal, gruesome, and full of unexplainable paradoxes like one man surviving repeatedly when another does not. Whatever causes this epidemic of soldier suicides, it isn’t the horrors of war. 

    Because suicides are up among civilians as well, there are probably changing elements of the general culture involved. Beliefs regarding purpose and identity seem relevant. 

    Another influence might be a widening division between soldier and civilian experiences. The further removed from war and poverty American civilians become, the more difficult it presumably becomes for American soldiers to be reintegrated into society. 

    In any case, an understanding of soldier suicides must come primarily from the soldiers exposed to such impulses. Solutions will not come from government.

    • #1
    • January 21, 2019, at 11:31 AM PST
    • 3 likes
  2. Gary Robbins Reagan

    Thank you for this essential post. I don’t have answers, but I am a better man by reading this.

    • #2
    • January 21, 2019, at 11:33 AM PST
    • 3 likes
  3. RufusRJones Member

    This is related. Very good if you are interested in PTSD.

    • #3
    • January 21, 2019, at 11:36 AM PST
    • 3 likes
  4. Nanda Panjandrum Inactive

    @davesussman, praying over this one! May I suggest this site? Particularly the drop-down “Post-Traumatic Winning”…Col. Mike MacNamara, USMC [Ret] and colleagues from Boulder Crest Retreat have been working on a program/strategy for 3-5 years. Just 2 weeks ago, they took it on the road for the first time; to the 2nd Marine Division at Camp Lejuene, NC. Talk about bringing down the walls of Jericho! Powerful stuff…It’s about to go Corps-wide…First-responders and others are talking about implementing it now, too.

    Here’s a link to the accompanying book, but all the resources are available at the AMR website. (I’m gonna work the program myself for Lent, so I can honestly talk about it.)

    Thanks for sharing this! Prayers commenced! Your everlovin’ “Chaps”

    • #4
    • January 21, 2019, at 11:39 AM PST
    • 5 likes
  5. Dave Sussman Podcaster
    Dave Sussman

    Aaron Miller (View Comment):
    Solutions will not come from government.

    My first ‘conservatarian’ reaction is to agree, however, who better to deal with this than an organizational structure already geared to assisting vets backed by the massive budget of the U.S. Gov’t. Private vet groups are fantastic but do spend an inordinate amount of time just raising money.

    Maybe the VA could allow an allocation to combat this epidemic in collaboration with local private veteran groups.

    • #5
    • January 21, 2019, at 11:43 AM PST
    • 5 likes
  6. Clifford A. Brown Contributor

    Dave Sussman (View Comment):

    Aaron Miller (View Comment):
    Solutions will not come from government.

    My first ‘conservatarian’ reaction is to agree, however, who better to deal with this than an organizational structure already geared to assisting vets backed by the massive budget of the U.S. Gov’t. Private vet groups are fantastic but do spend in an inordinate amount of time just raising money.

    Maybe the VA could allow an allocation to combat this epidemic, maybe in collaboration with local private veteran groups.

    The VA is deeply involved in suicide prevention.

    As part of its efforts to address this problem, VA has established a toll-free, confidential Veterans Crisis Line at 1-800-273-8255 (1-800-273-TALK). The hotline was established in 2007 and is staffed by mental health professionals 24 hours a day, seven days a week. It has received more than 3 million calls as of September 2017, and has initiated the dispatch of emergency services to callers in imminent crisis more than 84,000 times. VA also offers a texting service at #838255.

    Veterans and their families can also chat online with trained counselors at http://www.VeteransCrisisLine.net. Since November 2011, the Veterans Crisis line has answered nearly 359,000 chat requests and nearly 78,000 texts. Registration with VA or enrollment in VA health care is not necessary. VA also has full-time suicide prevention coordinators at each of its 145 hospitals.

    The active components and the Reserves (National Guard and Reserve) are almost obsessively engaged.

    I wonder to what degree the suicide rate in the veteran population maps to their demographics in the general population. Since the military is quite selective in admission, it does not mirror the general population. So, if we control for demographics, including a dummy variable for veteran status, is “Veteran” statistically significant for “suicide” or “suicide attempt?” If we control for demographics, is “Traumatic Brain Injury” a significant causal variable? PTSD? VA disability rating?

    • #6
    • January 21, 2019, at 11:55 AM PST
    • 6 likes
  7. RufusRJones Member

    I think they know what to do for PTSD and C-PTSD but it takes a hell of a lot of resources. 

    If you want to learn how trauma screws you up, I’m a fan of Dr. Alexa Altman. Her interview with Katie Morton is very good, but every word means something. It’s pretty dense.

    • #7
    • January 21, 2019, at 12:03 PM PST
    • 3 likes
  8. Dave Sussman Podcaster
    Dave Sussman

    Nanda Panjandrum (View Comment):

    @davesussman, praying over this one! May I suggest this site? Particularly the drop-down “Post-Traumatic Winning”…Col. Mike MacNamara, USMC [Ret] and colleagues from Boulder Crest Retreat have been working on a program/strategy for 3-5 years. Just 2 weeks ago, they took it on the road for the first time; to the 2nd Marine Division at Camp Lejuene, NC. Talk about bringing down the walls of Jericho! Powerful stuff…It’s about to go Corps-wide…First-responders and others are talking about implementing it now, too.

    Here’s a link to the accompanying book, but all the resources are available at the AMR website. (I’m gonna work the program myself for Lent, so I can honestly talk about it.)

    Thanks for sharing this! Prayers commenced! Your everlovin’ “Chaps”

    This program (Boulder Crest) looks exceptional. I looked at their financials and as a 503(c) it relies on the kindness of generous donations from the private sector. Referring to my last comment, couldn’t a hybrid public/private sector work with VA funding qualified organizations like these?

     

    • #8
    • January 21, 2019, at 12:07 PM PST
    • 2 likes
  9. Susan Quinn Contributor

    The numbers are dreadful as are the number of lives lost. Since there are programs being offered, are they working effectively with their patients? I’m also alarmed by the thought that if the current programs were not in place, how many more would take their lives? It is a tragedy.

    • #9
    • January 21, 2019, at 12:40 PM PST
    • 4 likes
  10. Aaron Miller Member
    Aaron Miller Joined in the first year of Ricochet Ricochet Charter Member

    Dave Sussman (View Comment):

    Aaron Miller (View Comment):
    Solutions will not come from government.

    My first ‘conservatarian’ reaction is to agree, however, who better to deal with this than an organizational structure already geared to assisting vets backed by the massive budget of the U.S. Gov’t. Private vet groups are fantastic but do spend in an inordinate amount of time just raising money.

    The VA suicide hotline is a good organizational step, whatever its effectiveness. But what I meant is that the crux of the problem seems more cultural than anything an organization could fix with a program, public or private. 

    But then, I think most problems at their roots are cultural. Right action follows from right beliefs, values, and priorities.

    • #10
    • January 21, 2019, at 1:21 PM PST
    • Like
  11. CarolJoy, Thread Hijacker Coolidge

    Nanda Panjandrum, R> "… (View Comment):

    @davesussman, praying over this one! May I suggest this site? Particularly the drop-down “Post-Traumatic Winning”…Col. Mike MacNamara, USMC [Ret] and colleagues from Boulder Crest Retreat have been working on a program/strategy for 3-5 years. Just 2 weeks ago, they took it on the road for the first time; to the 2nd Marine Division at Camp Lejuene, NC. Talk about bringing down the walls of Jericho! Powerful stuff…It’s about to go Corps-wide…First-responders and others are talking about implementing it now, too.

    Here’s a link to the accompanying book, but all the resources are available at the AMR website. (I’m gonna work the program myself for Lent, so I can honestly talk about it.)

    Thanks for sharing this! Prayers commenced! Your everlovin’ “Chaps”

    I was just about to query people here if there were any known strategies for stopping this horrid epidemic of veterans killing themselves. So this information is very appreciated.

    This has been on going for my lifetime. So many Vietnam vets died at their own hands that eventually the suicides were equal to the number of service people actually killed in Vietnam. So I do hope people skilled with the right experiences and knowledge can tackle the problem and stop it in its tracks.

    • #11
    • January 21, 2019, at 1:33 PM PST
    • 2 likes
  12. Nanda Panjandrum Inactive

    Aaron Miller (View Comment):

    Dave Sussman (View Comment):

    Aaron Miller (View Comment):
    Solutions will not come from government.

    My first ‘conservatarian’ reaction is to agree, however, who better to deal with this than an organizational structure already geared to assisting vets backed by the massive budget of the U.S. Gov’t. Private vet groups are fantastic but do spend in an inordinate amount of time just raising money.

    The VA suicide hotline is a good organizational step, whatever its effectiveness. But what I meant is that the crux of the problem seems more cultural than anything an organization could fix with a program, public or private.

    But then, I think most problems at their roots are cultural. Right action follows from right beliefs, values, and priorities.

    Aaron, more current research is moving away from the idea of “moral wounds” to the idea of stressors releasing the trauma of earlier (often in childhood, where moral agency is diminished) adverse events – often family-related – interwoven with combat stress. (Interestingly, many who report significant stress/suicidal ideation/attempts in this context *have never seen combat*.)

    • #12
    • January 21, 2019, at 1:41 PM PST
    • 4 likes
  13. She Reagan
    She Joined in the first year of Ricochet Ricochet Charter Member

    Thanks for this post, @davesussman. There’s much good information in it and in the comments, and much insight and understanding to be gained from Matt’s devastatingly open and honest letter. My heart goes out to him and his family, and to all his brother and sister veterans who are struggling, and their families and loved ones too. Prayers, and may God bless them all.

    • #13
    • January 21, 2019, at 3:17 PM PST
    • 6 likes
  14. Spin Coolidge
    Spin Joined in the first year of Ricochet Ricochet Charter Member

    @davesussman, will you tell your friend that this US Army tanker appreciates what he’s written, and that I’ll be praying for him? And tell him from me: he’s right. And his kids love him and they want to put up with his [expletive] even if they don’t know it? And even if they won’t understand, they want to know.

    Thanks.

    • #14
    • January 21, 2019, at 5:24 PM PST
    • 5 likes
  15. Spin Coolidge
    Spin Joined in the first year of Ricochet Ricochet Charter Member

    And tell him thanks for caring for my fellow tanker.

    • #15
    • January 21, 2019, at 5:26 PM PST
    • 5 likes
  16. Front Seat Cat Member

    I pray for our military and our country every day. I pray that they may return wherever they are safely and soon. I was shocked to hear the Trump may pull us out of Syria. I welcome it. We have been trying to hold back evil for a long time in the Middle East and North Africa and around the world. I don’t think the human person is made to sustain the prolonged stain and trauma that war produces. There has to be an end to it, and actual changes to the Veterans programs to help our soldiers. I hope your post gets to the right people and significant changes are made soon. These lives are precious and they need help now. It’s even more important than “the wall” or anything else.

    • #16
    • January 21, 2019, at 5:44 PM PST
    • 3 likes
  17. Dave Sussman Podcaster
    Dave Sussman

    Spin (View Comment):

    @davesussman, will you tell your friend that this US Army tanker appreciates what he’s written, and that I’ll be praying for him? And tell him from me: he’s right. And his kids love him and they want to put up with his [expletive] even if they don’t know it? And even if they won’t understand, they want to know.

    Thanks.

    Will do Spin… both. 

    • #17
    • January 21, 2019, at 6:52 PM PST
    • 2 likes

Comments are closed because this post is more than six months old. Please write a new post if you would like to continue this conversation.