A Veteran's Suicide on 60 Minutes: Lessons Learned?
Founder and president, Coming Home Project
The 60 Minutes piece last Sunday on the life and death of Clay Hunt, a Marine who earned a Purple Heart serving in the Marines in Iraq and Afghanistan, demonstrated how much we have yet to learn about the epidemic of suicide in our returning troops and veterans.
What shocked so many is that Clay was "the poster boy" for how someone "should" return from war. He "did all the right things." After coming home, he became proactive, helping create Team Rubicon and participated actively in Ride 2 Recovery. In 2010 he stormed the hill with IAVA, advocating and using his own experience to help others as part of their Ad Council Mental Health PSA program. He sought help at the VA, took his meds, tried to revive his sense of purpose through meaningful public service, had good friendships, and exercised vigorously. How then could Clay Hunt take his life?
First, Clay's death reminds us that it is difficult if not impossible to prevent someone intent on killing himself from doing so. But, if we do not examine the lessons yet unlearned, we run the risk that his death, and the deaths of hundreds of thousands of veterans by their own hands, will have been in vain. And that is unacceptable.
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Yes, he did do everything right and had a family supporting him. The problem is too many things went wrong beginning with Resilience Training, clearly expressed by his family and friends. They didn't know what PTSD is or what it does. Families are on the front lines of all of this so even though they supported him the only ways they knew how, they didn't know enough about how to help him. How could they give Clay back hope that the next day would be better than his last when they didn't even know it? In 2009 I warned if they pushed Comprehensive Soldier Fitness, suicides would go up and they did. The DOD has been pushing this approach since 2007 as we've seen the deadly results. I'm still talking to veterans saying this kept them from seeking help and talking to their buddies. What is the saddest part of all is I am talking to families when it is too late and they already buried their veteran sons and daughters. The mind is fed medication to numb and therapy is lousy for the most part. If they do not address the "moral injury" they will lose even more.