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General News    H2'ed 8/22/12

More Costs of War: Suicides and Mental Trauma of Military Family Members

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"Our family is actively grieving Brian's suicide and trying to comprehend how both of our boys are dead at a young age, both by such violent methods.

"Brian was never the same after the death of his elder brother Alexander.

"Nor was I. The day Alex died I set myself on fire at our home in Hollywood, Florida, about twenty miles north of Miami where the VFP convention is. The day I set myself on fire in the US Marine van that came to advise me of Alex's death, my Mother tried to stop me when the Casualty Assistance Company did not. She pulled away the gas can from me. She pulled on me to get out of the van. Only by the grace of God did she not get burned since she was right next to me when the explosion occurred. She noticed the socks on my feet were on fire and pulled them off of me and still did not get burned.

"Brian was visiting his Mother in Maine when Alex was killed and saw on television as breaking news my setting the US Marine van and myself on fire.

"Brian and Alex had been very close as children. When Alex joined the military, Brian began to lose his way. He stopped going to school and stopped working.

"A short time after Alex's death, Brian confessed to me that he walked the streets waiting for a bus or a truck so he could jump in front of it. That would be the first of several suicide attempts that Brian would make.

"At Brian's funeral mass, I gave the eulogy and openly discussed how I had been struggling with mental health issues myself from Alex's death and how I felt culpable for not aiding Brian more in getting the help he needed. I had recognized Brian's pain -- his anxiety and depression because I was experiencing the same. Yet, I seemed to be powerless to help him.

"Since Alex's death seven years ago, I have experienced problems with my physical health including a brain cyst and Bell's Palsy.

"Since Brian's death eight months ago, I have been experiencing high blood pressure and have gained 20 pounds.

"In speaking with medical doctors, I have been told that grieving can often show itself with both physical and mental health problems.

"In the years after Alex's death, I travelled around the United States talking about the effects of war.  I found the work that I have done for peace and justice helped me cope with Alex's death. I have felt useful and have been inspired and supported by so many people who I have met and worked with -- Ann Wright, Medea Benjamin. Bruce Macdonald, VFP's Smedley Butler chapter in Boston and many other people in this room and more.

"I find it very important to meet with other Latinos and talk about my sons so that the Latino families are aware of the 'side effects' to military service and how it impacts the whole family. It affects the family as soon as the decision is made for a loved one to join the military, through deployment and often beyond. We have met families who are often torn apart due to different opinions on military service. The consequences can be great.

"Melida and I have our good and our bad days. My Mom has been in the US four months this year, which has helped us both.

"When Brian died, the Massachusetts peace community came together and had a peace vigil to remember him the following day where several hundred people showed up. Brian's graveside service included many Vets with Veterans for Peace flags flying in the wind at Brian's graveside. Mel and I are very grateful to have the Vets for peace honor Brian in this way.

"Mel and I are focusing on suicide-survivor and gold-star-family support groups. We have met many families who have experienced suicide with their families and military suicide.

"Though not many, there are other families who have lost a loved one to combat and then their siblings to suicide. Meeting these families can be hard, but it can be healing. It makes us realize that our family is not alone.

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Ann Wright is a 29-year US Army/Army Reserves veteran, a retired United States Army colonel and retired U.S. State Department official, known for her outspoken opposition to the Iraq War. She received the State Department Award for Heroism in 1997, after helping to evacuate several thousand (more...)
 
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