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Published:May 15th, 2017 15:50 EST
The Crossroads: Do Vets Ever Come Back? Suicide Awareness among Military Veterans

The Crossroads: Do Vets Ever Come Back? Suicide Awareness among Military Veterans

By Judyth Piazza CEO (Editor)

Approximately, twenty veterans a day commit suicide nationwide. The most recent data in 2014 indicated that 7,400 veterans took their own lives, which accounted for 18 percent of all suicides in America. Veterans make up less than 9 percent of the U. S. population (L. Shane III & P. Kime). Additionally, research indicated that veterans were at a 21 percent higher risk of suicide than civilian adults. During 2001 to 2014 suicide rates increased. The overall civilian suicide rate rose 23.3 percent while suicide among veterans rose more than 32 percent; particularly among female veterans, who saw their suicide rate rise more than 85 percent compared to 40 percent for civilian females (L. Shane III & P. Kime).

Dr. Peter BernsteinDr. Peter Bernstein, founder of the Bernstein Institute for Trauma Treatment, specializes in the field of emotional and physical trauma; and is the author of Trauma: Healing the Hidden Epidemic. He is also a veteran of the Vietnam War era, and completed advanced infantry training at Fort Ord on the Monterrey peninsula.

Schroerlucke and StaubWhen asked if society could ever truly understand the depth and degree that our military experiences Dr. Peter Bernstein stated that, "I don`t know if civilian society knows about all of this. I doubt it because we consider it the under-belly of life; it`s the real stuff. A lot of military oriented people are well aware of the epidemic of suicide and that it is very serious. Civilians are not aware of a lot of things about war or what these young people are going through. There is a real disconnect between civilian society and military culture. Yet, intertwined in a lot of our lives are a lot of young vets that are coming back. These young soldiers don`t want people to know they are military. If you look at the local gym it is filled with Marines and Vets, and unless you are tuned into it you would not even know it; but they are all over the place. Some, in fact, I use as a resource. I need some experience sometimes to help me understand the things that have happened. They don`t want to be seen, they don`t want anyone to pay attention to them, and frankly society would have a hard time relating anyway. The pain, torment, and self agony are beyond words; to even try to sit and help these young people is literally a true nightmare."

Washington Post and Kaiser PollIn honor of Candyce Staub [Navy Petty Officer], and to bring awareness to suicide among military veterans; Leslie Schroerlucke, Hayley Liddiard, and Bianka Desure decided to hike The Pacific Coast Trail. On April 02, 2017 the journey began, which was exactly three months after Staubs took her own life. Schroerlucke and Desure both served in the military with Staub, and Liddiard has joined the cause to support awareness of suicide in general. Their hike will run the entire Pacific Coast Trail from the Mexico Boarder to the Canada Boarder.

Candyce L. Staub died on January 02, 2017 at age twenty-five; beloved mother of Benjamin, partner of Matthew Hanlon, and loving daughter of Michelle Whalen (Michael) and Herbert Staub (Gina). Staub was a Navy Petty Officer, Third Class (E-4); Stationed onboard USS COMSTOCK LSD-45, engineering department, repair division.

Schroerlucke stated that, "I`m still very much in shock over the whole thing. She was happy and fun loving. Always joking, always smiling and making other people smile; and very soft spoken very sincere, and a phenomenal mother and friend." Schroerlucke shared that the two of them would draw mustaches on their pointer fingers, hold them up to their mouths, and try to speak in British accents. "She was horrible at it but she was hilarious," Schroerlucke said. Staub enjoyed dancing around work, bacon sunflower seeds, and Ellen DeGeneres; in fact, Staub and Schroerlucke made a video for
DeGeneres: A message for Ellen DeGeneres. This video exemplifies the essence of the beautiful, kind, fun-loving spirit of Staub.

Dr. Peter Bernstein, upon further discussion, articulated his professional perspective and experiential experience [Note: transcribed verbatim, raw, and unedited]:

Everyone is affected by war and everybody comes back with some sort of post traumatic stress. But, not everyone has the serious wounds and injuries. Further, there are also certain people who go into the service with what can be called complex developmental issues, which occurred before they even go into the service. Some begin with and have developmental issues where there has been trauma or different kinds of abuses and troubles from their past, then they go into the service; and that compounds with the shock traumas and the horrors of war. You put that together and you have certain individuals that come back worse off than others ...

We currently are dealing with about four different situations right now at the institute, in fact, we lost one young person about three weeks ago ... [Pause] ... What it really turns out to be, is it has to do with people not being able to live with themselves when they come back. We call it a sense of bankruptcy of the soul; what is clinically called moral injury, and it seems to be the most devastating thing for these young men and women to come back from. They don`t integrate, they really struggle, but really what it is, they can`t seems to live with themselves or forgive themselves for what they have been through or
what they have created ...

We just lost one and he was ... [Pause] ... To sit with folks like this is a nightmare, and they live with this every day. When they are in the midst of it, it is bad enough. But, when they come home and they`re use to that hyper alert state of war, which is appropriate in war-time, they can`t seem to let down once they return. What happens is the memories begin to emerge and those memories begin to overwhelm
them; it`s just devastating...

The kids that are killing themselves, they just have a very strong sense of guilt and they don`t forgive themselves. The one kid that died a few weeks ago ... [Pause] ... This guy was special ops [marine for recon] ... [Pause] ... One of the things that the enemy does is they use civilians [e.g. children, women] as shields ... And, basically, these young soldiers were trapped. The enemy engaged them, and then the enemy used women and children as shields. The marines, to get out of it had to shoot, and the women and children were getting killed in the process. The young man who took his life also lost a lot of his unit during this process...

So, that is what the enemy is doing. They are doing some absolutely in-human things. But, for these men and women coming home, they have to live with the agony and pain of watching these children and women die right before their eyes as a part of the war. These young soldiers feel it`s a horror that they have created, when truthfully it was the situation of war that created it and not the soldier. That is what our people are up against. When our people are coming home, and they are supposed to be `Normal` again, they will never be Normal.

And, now, we are also dealing with the families. What we tell the families is that your loved one left one way, and they come back very different. What the families see is a moment of familiarity, but then it just doesn`t last. It goes back to emotional out breaks, violence or anger, and they are beside themselves. Returning military are using addictive substances as coping mechanisms to kill the pain. They just cannot sustain themselves or sustain any kind of, what is considered, "Civilian Normalcy," which is considered: loving, vulnerable, civilian types of life anymore.

These military people just do not feel safe. So eventually they turn on themselves, in some horrible ways, and that is where the suicides are happening. The families watch it for a number of years before it eventually happens. And, the heart break is "No One" can save them. When these kids feel that they are destined to die, they do things to live up to that self-fulfilling prophecy. So then the family has to deal with the end result of all that ... And, the stories are all nightmare-ish, one after another.

If you are struggling or know someone struggling please contact Veterans Crisis Line - Suicide Prevention Hotline, Chat & Text, or Call the Veterans Crisis Line at: 1-800-273-8255 and Press 1 to talk with someone. You can also send a text to 838255. Individuals who are deaf and hard of hearing may call TTY Service 1-800-799-4889. All services are confidential and available 7 days a week, 365 days a year