Tuesday, August 16, 2016

Veteran Lives to Tell What Drove Him to Suicide to Save Others

Why veterans die by suicide, and how to stop it
Military Times
By Kristofer Goldsmith
Special to Military Times
August 16, 2016

A veteran joins others to place flags representing veterans and service
members who had died by suicide in 2014 on the National Mall in Washington.
(Photo: Charles Dharapak/AP)
Try to picture a veteran who has recently chosen to take his own life, and you’ll probably think of someone like me: a 20-to-30-something man who served in Iraq or Afghanistan. That’s a result of countless hours spent by advocates to raise awareness about the issue.

In 2014, as a volunteer for Iraq and Afghanistan Veterans of America, I spent most of my free time advocating for the Clay Hunt Suicide Prevention for American Act. I spent the summer traveling the country telling Clay’s story to everyone who would listen in hopes of building a movement that would get Congress to finally take decisive action to address the suicide crisis in the veteran community.

I had never met Clay when he was alive, but thanks to my experience with IAVA, I now know Clay’s parents, Susan and Richard Selke. We don’t talk regularly or see each other much since the Clay Hunt bill was signed into law in early 2015, but I feel like I’ve got a unique sort of bond with them. It’s a bond that I’ve felt with lots of parents who have lost their son or daughter to suicide.

That bond exists because they see in me what they lost, and I see in them what I almost did to my own parents.

On a personal level, answering, “Why’d you try to kill yourself?” is incredibly frustrating. There was a lot going on at the time of my suicide attempt. I had been suffering from severe bouts of depression, frightening panic attacks, and paralyzing migraines — what I now understand to be the effects of severe post-traumatic stress disorder.

What made things worse before my suicide attempt is that when I asked for help, I was treated with suspicion by my Army doctors and later chastised by my company commander for taking the antidepressants that I had been prescribed.

Despite an otherwise stellar career, I felt like I had failed as a soldier and as a man. My personal relationships were a mess. My unit went downrange without me so that I could get some emergency surgery, and I spent the next month restricted to my quarters. In that time, I quit going to therapy, and I stayed home in a dark room watching the 2007 presidential primary debates, where my buddies in Iraq seemed to have been forgotten, and I was drinking myself to sleep most nights.
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