Vets deserve exemplary care

Published 12:00 am Wednesday, May 9, 2012

Typically, The Star-News does not report on suicides or suicide attempts, but generally speaking, those planning to do the deed don’t call the office to give us a heads-up on what they’re about to do, either.

By reading the front page of today’s paper, one can see what transpired shortly after 9 a.m. Tuesday. When my office phone rang, I never expected the voice on the other end to say he planned to take his own life. At first, I thought it was a prank call, but as his voice cracked when he said he was battling cancer, it all rang true. He didn’t identify himself at first. I tried to keep him on the phone by getting as much information as possible – pulling out his name, his rank and his home address. I quickly scribbled his answers. When I asked why he would want to kill himself, he hung up. My hands didn’t start shaking until after I relayed what he told me to the police department.

I struggled for a moment about what to do. Do I stay in the office or do I go to the scene? I ultimately decided it was my professional responsibility to go. A call to the boss lady confirmed that I had met our liability threshold by reporting the phone call.

But, the personal ramifications of my decision to go to the scene never crossed my mind. Not even when my boss sent a “Are you sure you want to handle this?” text. I thought it was her concern over my having spent the last two days nursing three children with strep throat spilling through and not, “You don’t have to cover a story about a veteran threatening suicide considering what you’ve gone through.”

I’ve never made it a secret or shied away from talking about how my father – a National Guardsman, Desert Storm veteran and sufferer of Post Traumatic Stress Syndrome – committed suicide. Thankfully, for my own mental health, I dealt with that issue years ago. My father, like the man involved in Tuesday’s incident, had gotten to the point where dealing with things became too much. Luckily, things turned out better for the Griggs family than it did for mine.

The VA has estimated that 18 veterans commit suicide per day.

To quote President Abraham Lincoln, “There can be no doubt that securing exemplary care for our nation’s veterans is a moral imperative.”

I don’t know if Mr. Griggs was being treated for mental health issues. I didn’t ask.

But I know there are other veterans who have pointed weapons at an enemy abroad who are now facing a new battle against mental illness.

They need help, and I hope and pray they get it.