Support for veterans brings hope
May 8, 2015
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Veteran Kevin Franklin was somber as he recounted his friend’s suicide.
“None of us saw it coming,” he said. “And hindsight is 20/20. Still, none of us saw it.”
Post-traumatic stress disorder and depression are common enemies of veterans, and suicide takes the lives of our returned troops at an alarming rate. A 2013 study by the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs found that an average of 22 veterans kill themselves every day.
“One of my friends committed suicide in my own bedroom, in the closet with one of my old firearms,” said Franklin, a member of the Ohlone Student Veterans Club. “And I walked in on finding that. After a few days, I walked in and found it.”
Suicide in the military is not a new issue. In 2012 the number of active-duty military personnel who killed themselves, 177, exceeded the 176 who were killed in combat, according to the Department of Defense.
As The Guardian put it in a 2013 story, “More of America’s serving soldiers died at their own hands than in pursuit of the enemy.”
Dr. Jan Kemp, the VA’s national mental health director for suicide prevention, told Stars and Stripes last year that the reasons for veteran suicides are unclear, but that the pressures of leaving military careers and readjusting to civilian life, along with combat injuries and post-traumatic stress disorder, all play a role.
Christina Bass, a clinician and recruiter for the Center for BrainHealth at the University of Texas – Dallas, defined PTSD in a U.S. News & World Report story.
“The brain and nervous system, overwhelmed, are unable to process the past trauma,” she said. “As a result, the emotional response tied to the past events is interjected into the present – meaning the person frequently relives and responds to the past.”
No one wants open discussion about mental health more than veterans like Franklin and Tommy Brandy, both of whom attended Ohlone’s Out of the Darkness walk last month in support of suicide awareness.
“One of the big problems though, that I feel, is the stigma with getting help,” Franklin said.
Ninety-eight veterans were enrolled at Ohlone last semester, according to data from the California Community College Chancellor’s Office. There are resources both on and off campus to help veterans returning home.
The Veterans Affairs Office helps Ohlone veterans obtain their GI benefits, and assists them with college services such as financial aid, priority registration, counseling and other programs.
Veterans who need help can call the confidential, toll-free Veterans Crisis Line 24 hours a day at 800-273-8255 and press 1 to reach a Veterans Affairs’ representative for support.
Brandy wants to reach out to those who feel hopeless.
“I don’t agree with suicide – it’s not an option for me,” he said. “But some people, they feel as though they don’t have any way. … There are other options and there are ways out. So no matter how far down that dark place that you think you are, there’s always a hand and a way out.”
Kemp said officials have seen decreases in suicide rates when veterans take advantage of the VA health system.
“What we’re seeing is that getting help does matter,” Kemp said. “Treatment does work.”
Franklin, who has been diagnosed with two major depressive disorders, is studying psychology to help people with PTSD.
“It’s like taking my own traumas and experiences and switching it,” he said.
His mission is to facilitate greater conversation for those voices he believes are not heard.
“I want to bring trauma counseling to firefighters, paramedics, police officers, and those people,” he said. “Because they have the same rates of PTSD as veterans do, and nobody talks about it.”
While optimistic, Franklin maintains that the dialogue about mental health needs to be stronger.
“What we need to see is a greater national debate,” he said. “Because this grassroots stuff is great on the small run, but if we’re not talking about it in everybody’s kitchen, on the news, and on the radio, the majority of society doesn’t see it.”
For more information about Ohlone’s Veterans Affairs Office, call 510-659-6199 or go to www.ohlone.edu/org/veterans. The office is in Room 7249 in Building 7 on the second floor of the Fremont campus.
For more information about the Veterans Crisis Line, online chat and text-messaging service, go to www.veteranscrisisline.net.