Saturday, April 28, 2012

How To Save A Hero's Life. Stop 18.

There is an epidemic among Veterans, particularly veterans of Operation Iraqi Freedom and Operation Enduring Freedom. On the average, 18 combat veterans attempt suicide a day. Far too many of them succeed. This in not a success to rejoice. These successful suicides demonstrate a failure we , as a society, need to correct.

Think about that. 18 heroes a day. That is a lot of heroes that put their lives on the line for our country. That is a lot of heroes that our country still needs today, in these darkest of times. 


It has to STOP.


We can finger-point at the politicians on both sides of the aisle for lack of policy or failed policy. We can point fingers at chains of command. However, many of these veterans make their attempts after they have left the service. We can point fingers at the inadequacies of the Veterans Administration that fails far too often to diagnose TBI or PTS in a reasonable time.  We can also point fingers at each other as well as at those who made the attempts, more so at those who succeeded. Those fingers go back to ourselves for failing them. 

Please watch this video from my friend Boone Cutler. He has something important to say and some important directions to give to each warfighter out there. He is correct that many vets do not speak to those who "weren't there". he is also correct in stating that those of us who were owe it to each other. Together we can get through this. We are brothers and sisters.

After the video is enclosed a blog I posted years ago on MySpace. The blog grew a few times over. This is now its forth incarnation. The words still hold true. Pay attention. I am not an expert. However, I am somebody who has successfully talked  down many brothers and sisters form that ledge and got them to the help they needed. They were lessons learned the hard way, through trial and error.

"The Spartan Pledge:  I will not take my own life by my own hand until I talk to my battle-buddy first. My mission is to find a mission to aid my warfighter family."


Original article transferred from MySpace. This is the third version posted there between 2007 and 2010. 

After the news I received today, I felt compelled to update and re-post this blog. An acquaintance of mine took his own life earlier this week. He got himself in a bit of a mess. Marital problems and being deployed to a war zone increased his feelings of hopelessness exponentially. I am a few hundred miles away and definitely not among his closest friends. Still, the man had served a remarkable career in the Army. His family's loss is the Army's loss and our nation's loss.

It just irritates me that nobody around him saw the signals. Nobody around him took the time to stop him and confront him, get him to talk. It seems as though nobody cared enough to pay attention until it was too late. Please, if you know somebody in trouble, please help him or her. Don't let a life be wasted on fleeting feelings of hopelessness or frustration. If you are in trouble, don't let your life be wasted. Get help! As long as you are still breathing, there is a solution, an answer, a way. Life does not throw us anything we cannot handle. We may not be able to handle everything on our own, but there is nothing that we cannot handle with help.

This is a subject that is actually quite difficult for me to write about. However, recent events forced me to ponder the subject, almost to obsess over it. So, here I am, openly and publicly blogging about a monumentally serious issue. I urge and beg my regular readers to "pimp out" this blog. I ask you not because I am an "attention whore". I ask you to because of how important this subject is to me.

I am a soldier. I am currently on my forth tour to Iraq. Since February 2003, I have spent more days in Iraq than I have in the country of my birth. I have witnessed and been party to many things. I have seen the horrors that people can do to each other. I have witnessed the greatest kindnesses. Both of these are products of war. It brings out the best and the worst in people.

I have had people close to me die. I stopped counting because I realized that itemizing the fallen did nothing but dehumanize them and depress me. Now, I simply shed a tear and lose myself in thoughts of "the good times" with each of them. Sure, I have my sullen moments when the ghosts haunt me. Every soldier who has had a brother or sister fall has those moments.

I have had to kill. Trust me, it is nothing to be proud of. There is no glory in it. It comes down to survival. It comes down to "him or me or my brothers and sisters or those innocent kids on the corner". There is no glory in that, just doing what must be done. If there was another way, I'd have taken it.

Taking a life is too easy. It is a matter of pulling a trigger. It is a matter of stabbing with a knife. It is a matter of crushing a windpipe or snapping a cervical spine. It takes very little effort and very little thought.

There are other ways to take a life that many people do not think about. Suicide among military personnel and war veterans is at an all-time high right now. Taking a life can be passive as well as active. It requires you to simply do nothing. That's it, don't do a damned thing. Don't listen. Don't watch out for the signs. Even worse, you can see somebody in trouble and, with unkind words, tip them over the edge without even realizing you did so. Taking a life is just that easy. All you have to do is say the wrong thing, turn your head, walk away, and ignore it.

Saving a life can be just as easy. I have seen lives saved through the capture of a terrorist. I have watched them saved through the application of a tourniquet. I also know of a few that have been saved just from listening, looking, and asking the right questions at the right time.

I have a friend whom I adore like the sun. She is one of the brightest lights that has ever entered my life. I can honestly say that my life would be drastically different and less enjoyable had I not met her at a bar in Lawton, Oklahoma. One day, though, she confessed to me of how the world almost lost her. Hearing her tell me, I started shaking in fear of how close I came to losing my friend.

K had ended a rocky and abusive marriage. She moved back to her home town from Oklahoma. She was cohabiting with some dude she met and thought she loved. One night, she called me out of the blue. She was evidently quite out of it. K had a drug problem as a teen, and her tone on the phone indicated she had slipped. In her inebriated state, she giggled and laughed about how her beau had role-played being a rapist and taken her, against her will, anally. She also went on to talk about other things, like her fear of losing her son in a custody battle and her trying to get a job that paid enough. I ended up on the phone with her all night. I thought she was catching up and letting me know how good things were turning out.

I was wrong. A couple of months later, she and I were talking. She called me to tell me she had gone into rehab and was now in AA and NA. She was committed  to staying sober. She had also enrolled in college classes and began to work as a counselor for troubled teens. Then she started to cry. When I asked her what was wrong, all she said was "thank you".

"Thank you. I am so sorry for that night. I am so sorry for what I put you through before...". Her words went on. The rest is private between her and I. But what was revealed was that the role-playing was not role-playing. He actually did rape her. He also got her hooked on drugs again. He was beating her. She found herself in a corner and was contemplating killing herself. She called me, and my listening to her, being there for her, reminded her that she is worthwhile. I reminded her that she was a good mother and how important her son, Z, is to her. She told me that I saved her life that night. I didn't even realize it.

I had a soldier, when I was stationed at Ft. Lewis, who fell on some troubling times. Paperwork had been messed up and his promotion hadn't come through, or at least the pay hadn't. He had counted on the money. Other issues from home compounded the pay issue. Then his girlfriend broke up with him. He walked down the hall one night. He sat down on my bed and asked if I could talk. Normally, he and I weren't that chummy. But, for some reason, he had something to say, and he trusted me to say it to. He started to talk about his problems and saying that no solution was going to come in time. Finally, I just looked at him and asked him the hard question: "Are you planning to kill yourself?"

He told me he was. He had a plan. He had bought a shotgun and had buried it in a field a couple of blocks away from the barracks. He planned to go out after midnight and swallow a deer slug. To make a long story short, we had somebody watch him while we went and found the shotgun. Then we had medical professionals take care of him. Everything worked out in the end.

19 June 2009, A soldier I know told me his story.

He sat in his Compartmentalized Housing Unit (CHU) staring at the walls. The events of the last few days bounced around his head like a million super-balls launched at high speed into in a poly-urethane coated room. His unit had an incident an he had to take an action to save lives. In the process, he had to shoot somebody.

Now, in the aftermath and post-incident investigations, questions arose along with self-doubt over the validity of his actions. "Did he do the right thing? Was there another choice? Why did this have to happen? What is wrong with this world? How could I have done such a thing?"

The whole of life started to lose meaning. The insanity of what were once clear lines between right and wrong now blurred into an ugly shade of gray. He started having nightmares about the incident.

There the soldier sat, alone in his CHU. He loaded his weapon and sat it on his bed next to him. He felt there was nobody to talk to. He felt there was nobody who could understand. He felt as though he were truly alone, adrift in a sea of horror, and starting to sink.

Then he got an email. He had, the day before, reached out to a voice from the past. He had hoped that maybe there was one person who could restore some shred of sense and order to the chaos. The email was from her. He honestly never expected a response.

He debated opening the email. Knowing the tumultuous past the two shared, he mostly expected a response of "leave me alone". Instead, she offered a small bit of advice and empathy. She had been in a similar situation. She promised to write back with more advice on how to cope with it. But, just her reaching made a world of difference.

The soldier cleared his weapon and placed it away from his bed. He went to sleep hoping that the next day would be better. It was. He hasn't thought twice about going that close to the edge since.

Just an act of letting somebody know that you care and that they are valued can do a world of difference. Many times, thoughts of suicide are very temporary and non-recurring. They are not chronic. Everybody has the propensity to stand on that edge. It isn't a sickness or a disease. It IS a cry for help. This soldier needed that help and received it when it came (luckily in time).

Nobody really wants to commit suicide. They are really just looking for help of some sort. That help can be as simple as a pat on the back or as complicated as long-term professional counseling. But it all starts with one person reaching out that helping hand.

There are clinically depressed people who suffer from bipolar disorder or some other psychological ailment. However, most suicidal people are just temporarily on that edge. They see things have gotten to a point that they see no other solution. The truth of the matter is that the problems will not go away. No, they are just dumped onto somebody else along with dealing with the death of a loved one. Suicide is never a solution.

I have many friends who suffer from PTSD. Hell, I am among those numbers. I can speak from experience and say that there are those depressing bouts with survivors' guilt. Survivors' guilt is a symptom of PTSD that makes a vet depressed because one of their brothers or sisters died in combat. The inflicted sees it as his/her fault that another fell, believing it should have been him/her instead. It creeps up on me from time to time. I have a friend, J, who suffered from it (and may still). It is fairly common. I get through it by holding onto the fact that I have some purpose in life. There are things left for me to do. Had it been me, instead, those things would not be accomplished. But, others, well, they need the same sort of reassurance. It is difficult to open up to somebody who "wasn't there". So, find them somebody who was, whom they can talk to. Let those people know how much you appreciate them in your life.

As I stated, though, most suicidal people are not "suicidal" all of the time. It is usually a very temporary and often a one-time thing. You can help them. Here's how:

Step 1 -- LISTEN!
Step 2 -- Ask them: "Do you plan on killing yourself?" Don't worry about putting the thought in their head. Trust me, if their answer is "yes", the thought was there long before you asked the question.
Step 3 -- Ask them about their plan. Find out how.
Step 4 -- Ask them why. They may not want to give this answer.
Step 6 -- Call the professionals. This is a life or death emergency. This is a 911 call. Do it. Grab your Nokia and dial 911. If you are not a shrink, you don't have the skills to help them solve their problems.

Thing to look for:

Changes in eating habits.

Giving away precious items.

Too much time alone (especially for people who are normally sociable)

Suddenly coming out of a depressed stupor acting as if all their problems were suddenly solved! This is a warning sign because it is an indicator that they have finalized their plan and found the "final solution" to all their problems.

The loss of a relationship (divorce or death or breakup... this includes romantic relationships, familial relationships, or close friends)

"Joking" statements about being "better off dead" or "it'll all be over soon" or "you'll all be sorry when I'm gone"...

Increased drug or alcohol use.

Morbid questions about drug interactions or other potentially lethal things... these are usually the questions of how to do something unsafe or unwise and the outcomes rather than how to safely avoid those outcomes.

A story on this sign dates back to my high school days. We had an assembly with Tomah (the real life narcotics detective turned "tough love" advocate that the TV series "Baretta" was based upon) and a recovering drug addict. While the addict was speaking, one of my fellow students started asking about "speed-balling" and the effects of "mainlining cocaine and heroin". Some of the other students laughed at the questions, because this kid was a known "stoner". Others begged him to shut up because the assembly was going longer than anticipated. Others just ignored it all, as kids will. That was on a Friday. Monday morning, we were informed that student had died of an overdose of heroin and cocaine. He "speed-balled" enough of both drugs to kill a horse. He had never taken either before. The investigation proved he had committed suicide, for several reasons. Among them were a recent break-up, bad grades, the death of a friend from drunk driving, etc, etc, etc. The signs were all there. Nobody paid attention because this kid was just another "clowning stoner" and "slacker". If anybody had paid attention, his acting up in that assembly was a cry for help. Nobody paid attention to it.

So, yes, it is easy to take a life. It is also easy to save one. Please, pass it along. Saving a life makes far more a difference to the world than taking one. It also makes so much more a positive difference to your life than taking one. Do all that you can. That is all anybody can ask of you. But do it.