Veteran Suicide

Paul Drogos 15 April 2019

Suicide feels like an oxymoron until it hits you in the face

The Department of Veterans Affairs has made suicide its’ number one clinical priority with the goal to eliminate suicide among veterans.  At a conference on 10 July 2019, held by the Manchester VA Medical Center in New England, they invited VA providers, community providers and Veterans to share information and establish open communication. It is great to see that the VA is working hard to share information openly.

One question is being floated one way or another on Facebook in groups. Do Veterans believe that the VA has their interest at heart?  Answers vary as would be expected.   It depends on who you talk to and what they are being treated for, however, it is distressing the number of veterans both women and men who believe there is no help for them in the VA.  I hope the Orlando VAMC has a plan.

I have read story after story where people have said they are tired of intrusive thoughts, nightmares, or long-term insomnia.  Many Veterans report they have asked more than once for help, but have receive negative help in the form of drug therapy that does not work and / or condescending talk from therapists over and over which has driven them to stop therapy or consider stopping therapy. 

At the same time, I should also say that I hear many more Veterans tell stories about better care that they are getting.  Some women are talking about specialized trauma therapists helping them deal with women’s trauma issue.  I am one of those cases.  Unfortunately, there are not enough of these therapist to go around.

It is upsetting to hear how lonely Veterans are due to isolation.  However, in a recent AARP study, their findings showed that the highest number of lonely people were over the age of 45-years old. Certainly, this does not exclude younger individuals, particularly Veterans. It does point to an endemic issue that must be addressed. One way we can begin to address this issue is by reaching out veteran to veteran, veteran circles, and veteran groups.

The VA is getting better, but they have a long way to go if we are still seeing veterans who laid their life down for this country commit suicide because care wasn’t there for them when they needed it the most.   How can we make meaningful change?

Paul Drogos Committed Suicide on 15 April 2019

Ming Drogos lost her husband, Paul Drogos, her soulmate, the love of her life to suicide at 10:15 on 15 April 2019 after just two years of courtship and five short months of marriage.  I asked Ming if I could share their story; I could not hold back the tears each time I read her Facebook page.

Memories of Paul

Ming’s husband led a life serving others.  He was a Marine, a Police Officer, a Senior Officer Specialist at FCC Butner (Department of Justice), and she described him as a “general badass guy.”

Ming said:

“Although his life had started over again when we met, his past and his pain was so deep even I couldn’t take it away. And we were happy. A fairytale like happy. As his wife and a fellow veteran, I should have seen his pain and suffering. I am appalled that I lost him this way. 

He left me so heartbroken.  He left me alone in this world.  The promises he made to me; he will never get to keep them. I am so angry with him for leaving me behind.  I am so angry with him for leaving our boys behind.  I am so angry at him for being so selfish.  It took us half of a lifetime to finally find each other and he took that away from me.  He took my happily ever after away from me.

I miss him so very much.  I am so lost and broken without him.  I am scared what my future holds without him by my side.  My heart aches for him.  This pain is indescribable and unbearable.  I just want to see his smiling face.  I just want 5 more minutes of his hugs.  I just want to hear his voice calling me “baby” one more time.  I just want to snuggle my face into his beard and breathe his scent. I would give my last breath just to hear him say “I love you”.

Rest easy, my love.  Your pain is now gone.  I am so glad that I was able to make you happy for the last two years. I am so glad that I was able to experience unconditional love from you. We will find each other sooner in the next lifetime, I promise. I love you so much, baby. Like you used to say to me, ‘you’re my heart.’  But my heart is broken and my heart aches so badly.”

One thing that is known about suicide is that the people that suffer the most after suicide are the families left behind.  More must be done before suicide happens to preserve these precious families.  For families like Paul and Ming and everyone else.  Ming thought she was living her forever fairytale with her soulmate.  She loved her funny, “goof-ball” of a husband, and Paul loved her.

“How could she have missed the signals?” she wonders.  Ming is also a veteran, but that does not mean she is a diagnostician of suicide. She felt love and happiness; no reason to feel PTSD and suicidal thoughts. 

Ming’s last tattoo in honor of her husband,
“Til we meet again … IGY6”

On 15 June 2019, Ming wrote, “I was told that most individuals with PTSD are masters of deception, particularly in the presence of their beloved spouses, family members or respective friends. I have come to understand that I did not recognize Paul’s pain and suffering all this time, because he placed an enormous amount of time and energy into masking his feelings.  He was always the protector, the rescuer, and the make-you-laugh-until-you-pee-your-pants- kind of guy.  Oh, how I miss his belly splitting comments, inappropriate ‘dad’ jokes and his infectious laugh.  Love you to the last number, my love.”

Peace be with you Paul. Blessings be with you, Ming, your family and friends!

Veteran Suicide Statistics

At the conference held by the Manchester VA Medical Center, updated suicide data was shared which is shocking.  Particularly shocking is the fact that women veterans are 1.8 times more likely to die of suicide than other non-veteran females.  Male veterans die of suicide 1.4 times higher than non-veteran males.

I have authored many stories over the years that were gut wrenchingly sorrowful.  However, I have to say, never have I put together a story either for my own blog or when I was writing for alternative news that hurt my heart the way this one did.  This story picked my heart up right out of my chest [metaphorically] and twisted it.  I can feel the pain that Ming is going through and I want to demand the VA do something different, faster, better before another suicide happens.

Additionally, male veterans age 18-34 have the second highest rate of suicide and male veterans age 55 and older have the highest count of suicide.  One of two service members die by suicide each day, and 123 Americans die by suicide each day.  Worldwide one person dies of every 40.

These numbers are unconscionable.  Too many veterans have asked for help for a long time but have been denied, or their needs have not been met.  Too many lives ended in suicide … too early … especially for the families left behind.  Solving veteran suicide is community effort.  It cannot be left up to a family or even the VA.  Everyone must be vigilant.   We must wrap mental health services around at-risk veterans, and communities, friends and families must always #IGY6 which means “I have your back.” 

Are you a Veteran in crisis or concerned about one?

Do you believe you might be at risk?  You can take this Veteran Self-Check developed by the Veterans Administration.  If you feel you need help, please take advantage of the following resources regardless of how the self-check scores.

Connect with the Veterans Crisis Line to reach caring, qualified responders with the Department of Veterans Affairs. Many of them are Veterans themselves.

How to connect with a First Responder:

Local Resources: https://www.veteranscrisisline.net/get-help/local-resources

 Suicide Prevention Coordinators

Specially trained Suicide Prevention Coordinators or teams are available at all VA Medical Centers across the country.

VA Medical Centers offer a range of acute care and community-based outpatient services, including mental health care, diagnostics, homelessness programs, alcohol/drug abuse programs, nursing homes, and respite care.

Community Based Outpatient Clinics (CBOCs) are local VA locations that provide primary care, counseling, laboratory analysis, prescriptions, and radiology services.

Veterans Benefits Administration Offices provide services to Veterans seeking benefits related to compensation, pension, vocational rehabilitation, home loans, death benefits, employment, and disability.

If you would like additional information, please feel free to post your questions.

Vet Centers provide readjustment counseling and outreach services to all Veterans who have served in any combat zone, as well as their family members.