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"Be ashamed to die until you have won some victory for humanity" — Horace Mann
As a survivor of attempted suicide and a consumer of mental health services while on active duty and in retirement, I am both honored and humbled to have served my country; however, I am troubled by the number of similarly affected active and reserve service members and veterans, many of whom are unaware of their conditions or, from a warrior's standpoint, are in denial.
There's the impact of 25 years of service in the Marine Corps, coupled with leading warriors in Operations Desert Shield, Desert Storm and Iraqi Freedom. There's the daily reminder that two Marines, both staff sergeants who had families, took their lives while stationed on Okinawa, Japan. Their deaths might have been avoided if the military culture had an empathetic approach to warriors who have found that the load they are carrying. They required professional interventions that did not create an atmosphere of fear, rejection, and most of all shame.
Readjustment to civilian life is often fraught with unforeseen challenges that leave many veterans ill-prepared to handle the day-to-day decisions and responsibilities associated with immersion in society. Having no formal degrees upon retiring from the Corps, I immediately took advantage of VA educational benefits, and as a disabled service-connected veteran, I made use of the VA Vocational Rehabilitation and Employment services, earning an associate, bachelor of science and master of public administration degrees. A component of the VR&E program required that I complete a related internship. I applied for a Carter Center internship and was assigned to the Office of Public Information. The Carter Center is a non-governmental organization founded by former President Jimmy and Rosalynn Carter that is dedicated to advancing peace and health worldwide through its human rights, disease control, mental health and conflict resolution programs.
Today, as I sat at the Atlanta Veterans Affairs Vet Center while my wife, Marcia, was undergoing counseling, a gentleman came in for the first time at his wife's urging. He was very apprehensive; having traveled in his footsteps, I understood and embraced him in a bear hug, commended him for taking the first step and assured him that his life would change, if he gave the therapy time.
Unbeknownst to that Desert Storm veteran, as a result of seeking professional help through the VA to save my sanity and marriage, I had recently completed training by the Atlanta VA Medical Center's Mental Health Department and Georgia's Mental Health Consumer Networks Certified Peer Specialist Project with the hopes of securing employment as a peer specialist so that I can help guide those who are often afraid, ashamed or unaware that they can live a productive life.
As warriors we are taught to leave no woman or man behind. Mine is the journey from suicide to savior and a "victory for humanity."