Suicide in the military is a growing concern and in 2012, more troops died by their own hand than in combat.
There are men and women devoted to helping veterans through their darkest hours. They work at the Veterans Crisis Line, the national suicide prevention hotline run by the US Department of Veterans Affairs.
Four of them sat down for StoryCorps to talk about their most memorable calls.
Elizabeth Olson is a “responder” at the hotline and the mother of two career service members.
Click here for the transcript.
One young man, Christopher, I’ll never forget him. He had come out of the Middle East--he'd been in full combat--and he had come home to his apartment, and found his girlfriend with another man there. She cleaned his bank account out and he had no place to go.
I had to talk him off a bridge not once but twice. You could hear the traffic on the bridge, the water underneath. The police came. They agreed to keep him overnight and take him to the VA the next morning.
He called about a week later and thanked us. He realized that he was young and he could start over, which was what I was trying to get through to him during the whole call.
Karin Porch (KP): My name is Karin Porch. I have had the calls, “I’ve got a gun to my head. You’ve got 30 seconds, why shouldn’t I pull the trigger?”
I remember a veteran who had called 12 times. I said, "What are we not doing for you? I really want to help." And, as we're talking, he goes, "Do you believe in anything?" And I said well, “You mean like God, and afterlife, and all of that?" And he says “Yeah.” And we got down to, “I killed people in Vietnam, and I’m scared. Am I going to go to hell?” And we talked about that. He was very calm at the end, and he said, “Just pray for me once in a while."
Rich Barham (RB): My name is Rich Barham.
Nelson Peck (NP): My name is Nelson Peck. Rich, tell me why you decided to come to the suicide hotline?
RB: I have Post Traumatic Stress Disorder from my years of deployment in Vietnam, Afghanistan, and Iraq. And when I came to the hotline, when a vet said they were having a flashback, I knew exactly what they were talking about.
I remember a young gentleman, he was in the middle of a flashback, and had boarded himself inside his living room. He had three young children--they were sleeping upstairs. I had heard in the background that something had clicked, and I asked him if he had a weapon. He said he did. He was really anxious and incoherent, but, you know, after a little bit of finagling around, he did agree to attend treatment.
I remember, after that phone call, being a little jerky and nervous--going outside, smoking a couple of cigarettes. And then just coming back in and doing my job again.
How has your life changed since you started working at the hotline?
NP: The hotline by far is the most rewarding thing I've ever done in my life. I uh, was a combat veteran with the United States Marines in Vietnam. I had PTSD as well, and uh, what I started to realize was my PTSD was triggered by survivor guilt. I never understood why I survived. And being with the hotline has really given me the answer. I was meant to survive to do this, so other veterans could survive.