(07/24/12) - It's a word that we rarely speak of, especially out in the open. But we decided to take a closer look at suicide among war veterans.
Some could say former Linden resident Kent Hall had it all. A good job, a great family, but in his mind he says he considered himself "evil" and thought at one point there was no way out but to take his own life.
In 1967, Kent Hall was drafted to serve in the U.S. military. His mission - Vietnam. A star athlete turned soldier, Kent was quickly promoted to Sergeant. But his tour of duty in enemy territory was cut short and called back home. But his battle was far from over. "I had no debriefing, I got home at 4 a.m., by 10 a.m. I was back in a college classroom, pretending nothing happened, so you quickly adapt."
For years, Kent remained silent about what he witnessed in war time, in fact he ignored the signs that he was suffering from something bigger than himself. He would later graduate college, get married and start a family. From the outside looking in, he had it all, but something was missing. "A normal person seeing abnormal events, trauma of combat, you will never be the same, you aren't going to be normal."
It wasn't until three years ago that he started talking, not just about Vietnam, not just post traumatic stress disorder, but about suicide.
"Some of the things that happen if you have a physical wound you can see it, you know how to deal, people understand that, but if you have an injury to your brain it can be much more debilitating, the things you see. Most men are resistant to talk about that."
Thoughts of taking his own life creped into Kent's mind over and over again, but he didn't know why and he had no idea how to explain it to anyone. "Suicide starts entering your mind, you can't do that, doesn't make sense, but it keeps coming back. It's an enemy you can't see, so you can't fight it."
"Survivors that I have talked say that was the only way out, that was their only option," said Scott Gilman of Shiawassee County Mental Health.
A New York times article said suicide rates of military personnel and combat veterans have risen sharply since 2005. And it was only recently, that the Pentagon established a Defense Suicide Prevention Office. Veteran Affairs reports 18 veterans commit suicide each day.
"Our experience has been not a lot of them are reaching out for help that we would like to see," Gilman said.
Jerilyn Strein heads up Shiawassee County Veterans affairs. Her office sees about 250 veterans a month, and notices right away when something is wrong. "They don't want to go out in public, they want to stay home, protecting their own privacy in a shelter they've built around them."
Meanwhile, Kent Hall sought treatment and still does today. He considers himself one of the lucky ones.
"I am such a great place right now in my life, I have peace, because I understand and if more people can be made of this and understand, you can accept it and deal with it, you can't cure, but it can become manageable."
Kent now devotes his life to encouraging other vets like him to come forward and get help. "I focus on veterans, but the more we make the public aware, that's when real acceptance and maybe more will be done because it's going to take the whole country to get behind this to help these guys."
If you'd like more information about how to help those you know that may suffer from PTSD, contact your local mental health office.
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