Monthly Archives: March 2013

10 f_cking years, the toll so far and #PTSD

bush5

10 f_cking years.

The images floating through my news stream were surreal yesterday. It was full of dusty pics from disposable cameras depicting steely eyed killers ready to cross the berm in hulking tanks and personnel carriers. At that moment in time we did not know how simple life was, nor how complicated it was about to become, for us.

I remember wandering around Camp Casey still wondering what the future would bring. I joined OIF I in August as a replacement. Like a jackass, I reasoned if I didn’t get into this fight quick, it would be over before it began and <gasp> my fiancé would have a combat patch and I <gulp> would not have combat “experience”.

Some days I wish I could reach back through time and slap myself.

That idea, which was fairly common, is one that is worthy of 10 slaps.

Here I am today, still a jackass, but hopefully in the right ways. I am a little wiser, but more so, humbled by those experiences. At this point, I would not trade my experiences for anything. The perspective I now hold as a Veteran is invaluable. It grounds me from the rash decisions, yet stokes the fire to challenge my limits and live life more completely.

I have said this before, but not long ago I would have traded for ten minutes of reprieve from my thoughts and nightmares. It was on the fringe of being unbearable. But I had help. I had support. I still have the help and support.

Since I wrote my last post one hundred and ninety eight Veterans will have taken their life. Ten years on and we are killing ourselves at a faster rate than we died in combat.

198.

I stare at that number and it is staggering.

There are so many great organizations that are helping. IAVA is storming Capitol Hill. Team RWB is joining with Team Rubicon to raise awareness.

How are we not connecting these dots? How are we not stemming this tide?

Here is our multiplication table.

One Month: 270 – Two Infantry Companies
Three Months: 810 – A Battalion
Six Months: 1,620 – 1/10th the population of Babylon, New York
One Year: 3,240 – 50% more than the sum of the next four graduating classes of Linenhurst Senior High School.

I aim to fight this. The suicides have touched my life too much already. So my continued action, besides this blog, is to participate in a 5k walk to raise awareness.

Can you take a walk with me?

9 more tomorrow…

Join Here.

 

Thank you.

Avoidance, the S word, and #PTSD

I think it is a fair self assessment that I am facing my #PTSD head on. Except, you know, when I am not.  As life accelerates and periodically slows down, I get a chance to reflect and write.  I have a good groove going, but as the gruff RI’s would say “complacency is a killer.”

One is too many

In January my roommate from college, another Veteran of Iraq and Afghanistan, committed suicide. When news broke that he passed away, and that he was not deployed, we feared that he had taken his own life. The fear was confirmed, and there we were, on a cold morning in Philadelphia, paying our respects to a brave Soldier who had survived multiple deployments overseas, but could not deal with the minefield of his own thoughts.  Tragic does not even begin to describe his early demise.  The murmurs in the crowd after the ceremony asked why, but as veteran who has faced PTSD the cold familiar answers stare you back in mirror: the anger got too high, the guilt too heavy, the depression too deep.

His death marked the third Veteran I personally knew to take his own life.

sgt-dwyer

I am not sure I have the words or the energy to recount how each suicide has impacted me.  I cannot articulate how a family feels.  If this post sucks it will probably be because I am going to tiptoe through these waters.  I know from my personal struggles how dark it can seem and I shudder at the thought of the depths of despair that lead a soul down that path.  The conversation about suicide seemingly only comes up after the fact.  Veterans are so good at masking the signs before a suicide.  60 Minutes did a segment on Clay Hunt, a founder of Team Rubicon who took his life in 2011.

Raise the volume

We have an epidemic in our country receiving little attention.  The VA estimates twenty two Veterans a day commit suicide.  As I mentioned earlier, I don’t want to go near it and I write about PTSD.

It is easier to talk about it in whispers or not at all.

It is hard to talk frankly about suicide.

It leaves such a mark and a stigma.  If you try to talk with someone casually about suicide, the topic is usually quickly changed.  If you are talking about suicide  it is usually one on one or with a small concerned group that has been deeply impacted. I’m sure people are getting queazy just reading the word over and over.

I ask myself questions all the time. Does talking about it create an onset? Does joking about it or avoiding the topic prevent it? I don’t know. I do know there is a link between PTSD and suicide in Veterans.

The national conversation about Veterans and suicide is too faint. We need to amplify the initiatives and raise the volume.

In that spirit I formed a team with the Suicide Prevention Initiative: Team Survivor (I know, unimaginative, but it works right?)

From the SPI website:

“Suicide Prevention Initiatives’ fifth annual Walk for Life in Riverside Park on Saturday, May 4th will support our progress in improving the care of veterans with Posttraumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD) and preventing suicide among those who are at risk.

SPI’s 5 K walk winds along the shore of the Hudson River. A light breakfast and conversation precedes the walk at the Boat Basin Café, a few blocks south of the starting point for the walk. Please join us to show your support for this and other high-impact SPI projects to prevent suicide.

We will meet at the Riverside’s Park Boat Basin Cafe at 9:00 AM for registration, light breakfast and some short remarks by our event’s chair, Jason Hansman, Senior Program Manager at Iraq and Afghanistan Veterans of America (IAVA).”

The team is formed in honor of my Classmate Brian Collins, my Soldier Steven Knudson and Joe Dwyer.

And, in breaking my avoidance habits I am going to take one more step and ask that you sponsor or donate in honor of this cause.

I set a team size goal of 10 people and a stretch fundraising goal of $3,000. The barometer in the top right of the blog is my actual counter to track the team progress. So, as always, please share, and if you can, make a donation. Thank you!

 

 

PS. The SPI site is not very forgiving and a little old school, so please bear with the excessive clicks and navigation to wind your way through the system. If you search for my name (Mikey Piro), or “Team Survivor” you can eventually reach the prompts for making a donation. Thanks again.

Team Survivor  <—- Link Here