UNDATED (WJRT) -
(06/30/14) - Every day, 22 veterans kill themselves. A new study conducted by the Iraq and Afghanistan Veterans of America found 30 percent of service members have considered suicide.
Corporal Michael Jernigan is proud of his service in Iraq - but it came at a price.
"I'm the first U.S. Serviceman to lose both eyes in the global war on terror," he said.
Jernigan's humvee drove into a roadside bomb. He lost his eyes and two fingers, damaged his hand and knee, and crushed his skull. He had 30 surgeries in one year.
"There were times that I laid in the hospital bed, and I wished that I would have died on the street in Iraq," Jernigan said.
Jernigan was able to bounce back, but many aren't. Every day, 22 veterans kill themselves. That's a suicide every 65 minutes.
UCLA doctor Patrick Link says suicide rates went up for both deployed and non-deployed service members since 2004.
"A surprisingly large number of soldiers are coming into the Army with psychiatric problems," he said.
About one in four soldiers suffers from at least one psychiatric problem and about one-third of attempted suicides are associated with mental disorders before joining the Army. Other risk factors: being male, being white, a low rank and a low education level.
Link says better screening and support for managing stress are needed.
"Ideally, you would like to have people be so resilient to stress that it actually improves their lives instead of makes them worse," he said.
Jernigan co-founded a program called Paws for Patriots to help place service dogs with veterans. Now, he helps the 22-kill initiative raise awareness about veteran suicide.
"We try to support them and empower them," he said.
Even though he's had his share of hard times, Jernigan says he wouldn't change it.
"The whole thing, I'd do it all over again. I really would," he said.
Suicide rates among those who served in Iraq and Afghanistan were roughly 30 per 100,000. Rates for civilian suicide in the same age and demographics were about 19 per 100,000. The study also found women have lower suicide rates than men in the Army except during deployments.