Editor Note: We’ve included a prayer for our warriors at the bottom of this article. Please… pray it and pass it along. 1 a day is too many.
“We have the greatest country on earth. We can overthrow governments. We can take over countries. We are back to back World War champions. And yet we can’t take care of our own.” ~Salvatore DeFranco, Navy SEAL, Founder of Battle Grounds Coffee.
Three members of our military took their own lives within five days of each other at the VA in two different states this month. And apparently that’s what it took for lawmakers to start getting their act together.
The first was Gary Pressley. He was 29-years-old and took his own life on April 5 in his car in the parking lot of Carl Vinson VA Medical Center in Dublin, Georgia.
He shot himself in the chest. He was pronounced dead at 8:45 p.m., according to the Laurens County Coroner Richard Stanley.
His family said he was medically discharged from the service in 2012 after a bad car accident. His mother, Machelle Wilson, said he’s been struggling with mental health care ever since. She told local media outlets that his sister called the VA to tell them her brother was threatening suicide from their parking lot. Moments later, he killed himself.
“He told his girlfriend he was going to do it in the parking lot, so they could find his body, so somebody can pay attention to what’s happening, so other vets do not have to go through this,” she told the television station.
The next day it happened in Decatur, Georgia.
Olen Hancock, a 68-year-old from Alpharetta, took his own life outside the Atlanta VA Medical Center. According to reports, he had been pacing in the lobby of the building before going outside and shooting himself.
(Above: Salvatore DeFranco from Battle Grounds Coffee speaks to wounded officers in Texas about PTSD.)
Officials didn’t give much background on Hancock or say what branch of the military he served in. Sen. Johnny Isakson, a Republican from Georgia is the chairman of the Senate Committee on Veterans Affairs. He called the deaths “unacceptable and devastating”.
“While we have taken a number of steps to address and prevent veteran suicide, this weekend’s tragic deaths clearly indicate that we must do better,” Isakson said.
The third was in Austin, Texas on April 9. An unidentified vet shot himself in front of hundreds of people in a waiting room of a VA Clinic shortly after noon.
“All of a sudden, over the intercom, they have this statement about everyone must clear the building including staff, so it was a little surprising,” said Ken Walker, who was at the clinic that day.
Richard Stone is the executive in charge of the Veterans Health Administration. According to an interview he did with Stars and Stripes, there have been more than 260 attempted suicides on VA properties. 240 have been stopped.
It’s said that some 20 veterans a day die by suicide, which is 1.5 times higher than those who haven’t served in the military.
Rep. Mark Takano, D-Calif., the chairman of the House Committee on Veteran’s Affairs, weighed in on the tragedies. He said the deaths were part of a “national crisis” and that a full committee hearing is scheduled for later this month to discuss the issue.
“Every new instance of veteran suicide showcases a barrier to access, but with three incidents on VA property in just five days, and six this year alone, it’s critical we do more to stop this epidemic,” Takano said “All Americans have a role to play in reducing veteran suicide, and the House Committee on Veterans’ Affairs is going to make this issue a top priority.”
I’d like to introduce you to a good friend of mine. His name is Eli Crane. He’s a former Navy SEAL Sniper and the CEO of Bottle Breacher (which you probably saw on Shark Tank). Eli spoke last year at Not All Heroes Wear Capes, an event for wounded police officers in Florida.
(Above: Eli Crane, Former Navy SEAL Sniper and CEO of Bottle Breacher speaks at event for wounded officers.)
I started this article with a quote from my good friend Sal, who is a former Navy SEAL. Sal was nearly killed, first in an accident and then by depression in his recovery. Below, I’d like to share with you his story. Coffee and his wife saved his life.
It’s a devastating tie with the law enforcement community. In 2018, more officers died by suicide that were killed in the line of duty. At least 158 officers took their own lives last year, which is 9% more than the total number of line-of-duty deaths resulting from 15 other causes such as felonious assault, patrol vehicle accident, heart attack, duty-related illness.
“The reports of 144 law enforcement officers killed in the line of duty during 2018 is a tremendous loss,” BlueH.E.L.P. co-founder Jeff McGill said in a statement. “As tragic as these duty deaths are, the single greatest cause of death for law enforcement officers each year is suicide.”
California (12), Texas (12) and Florida (10) had the highest number of officer suicides. Of those at least 12 officers killed themselves on duty.
Of the 2018 officers who died as a result of suicide, 150 were male and 8 were female. The average age was 41 years with an average length of 15 years of service.
We produced this video in early 2018, touching on those LEOs lost to suicide in 2017. It’s as relevant and important today as it was then. Perhaps even more important now.
(Above: A difficult conversation in a tribute to those who lost loved ones to suicide.)
“We’ve collected as much information as we possibly can on the names of officers who die by suicide every year,” said Steven Hough, co-founder of Blue H.E.L.P.
But not everything gets reported.
“The problem is, we know there are other tragic deaths by suicide that we don’t know about. So as bad a number as we have this year, we’re saddened by the fact that we know in reality the number is higher,” Hough added.
What is it going to take for us to come together as a nation to protect the men and women who serve and protect our communities and our country? Perhaps we need to stop relying on politicians and start relying on each other.
In the fall, I was blessed to take part in a 5k for Believe 208, started by a Trish Buchanan, who lost her husband to suicide. He was a police officer in East Hartford, Connecticut. Here are some moments from that event.
(Above: The run to end LEO suicides – a race called Believe 208.)
To talk to someone, veterans are urged to contact the VA crisis line at 1-800-273-8255. You can also text 838-255 for help and also talk in a confidential online chat session.
A prayer sent to LET for those who serve:
God of mercy we ask for blessings on all those who have served their country in the armed forces.
We ask for healing for the veterans who have been wounded, in body and soul, in conflicts around the globe.
We pray especially for the young men and women, in the thousands, who are coming home from Iraq and Afghanistan with injured bodies and traumatized spirits. Bring solace to them, O Lord. May we pray for them when they cannot pray.
Have mercy on all our veterans from World War II, Korea, Vietnam, Iraq, and Afghanistan. Bring peace to their hearts and peace to the regions they fought in.
Bless all the soldiers who served in noncombative posts. May their calling to serve continue in their lives in many positive ways.
Give us all here present today creative vision to see a world that, growing weary with fighting, moves to affirming the life of every human being and so moves beyond war.
We ask this through Christ our Lord. Amen.