Stopping the suicides: Veterans battling with PTSD

By Kelly McCarthy

November 11, 2013 Updated Nov 11, 2013 at 7:16 PM EDT

Endicott, NY (WBNG Binghamton) Every family has a hero. A man or woman they love who fought to protect this country. And if they're lucky, that hero is with them on Veterans Day to thank in person.

The decorations that surround Barbara Beebe's house in Endicott are hard to forget. Miniature American flags line the wooden fence, and a sign that reads, "A Vet Lives Here," sits snug in the front bushes.

Mixed among the patriotism is a different kind of memorial. A faded flag with the image of a young soldier hangs off the front porch.

Beebe flies that flag in memory of her son.

"I am a mother whose son committed suicide," Beebe said, "He was an Afghan veteran, he had a total of 21 years in the military,"

Barbara Beebe lost her son in January. Bruce was 46-years-old and a father of two. He served in the U.S. Air Force, Army, and National Guard for nearly half his life.

"He would take the shirt off his back for somebody, so I still don't understand the "why's," but I think the PTSD had a lot to do with it," Beebe said, "I could see his demeanor, the face, after you live with somebody for so many years you could see this."

While struggling with symptoms of Post Traumatic Stress Disorder, Bruce had the love and support from his family, but he did not follow through with support offered by veterans services found in every community.

Beebe remembers the night she asked Bruce to get help. While enjoying a family night at home, Beebe could see the emotional struggle taking a toll on her son.

"I said, hey Bruce, I can see it. I think you need help," Beebe said, "So we need to tell that to our veterans. If you need help, go get it."

Bruce responded to his mother saying he had started to go to counseling.

"There's no shot in the arm for this. The military veteran has to be the one to get out there and ask for help," Beebe said, "I don't know how, unless they see it on the TV or in the paper, somebody's got to get to these kids and the VA is there, the Vet Centers are there, and that's where they start with."

Federally-funded services are available so that even the strongest leaders have a place to go for help. Veterans can utilize services through the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs, because a part of bravery is being able to realize when the burden the veteran carries is too much for one person.

"Everyone is working as a team to identify the risk factors for the veteran," said Suicide Prevention Coordinator Sabah Altheblah, with the Syracuse VA Medical Center, "We're identifying different groups that will be helpful for them, therapeutic approaches, the suicide prevention team will also reach out to them on a fairly regular basis as well."

The VA Medical Centers and Vet Centers of New York State said their biggest challenge is not providing free services to veterans, it's getting them to walk inside.

"At this point I don't think the funding is an issue for us," Altheblah said, "It's just reaching out to the community and the veterans that aren't aware of our services or may be reluctant."

The Department of Veteran Affairs reports that 22 veterans a day take their own lives in the United States. A problem Beebe calls an "epidemic," and is working endlessly to solve.

Beebe spoke in front of the New York State assembly joint committees on Veteran's Affairs and Mental Health in October. She said sharing her story is to create more awareness about the counseling, camaraderie, and life-saving services found at places like the Vet Center.

"There were more suicides than men and women killed in both Iraqi Freedom and Enduring Freedom. That's terrible," Beebe said, "And if it takes a mother like me to do this I will do it until I don't have a breath left."

There are 16 Vet Centers in New York State, and even more community-based outpatient clinics through the VA.

If the country can work on answering some of the "why's" wondered by many, more and more military families in every community can remain whole.