SARASOTA, Fla. (WWSB) - Many get to spend Memorial Day on the beach or barbecuing with family and friends, but it’s important that we don’t forget what this holiday really means.
As we remember and honor those who have died while serving in the armed forces, there are veterans to consider who survive their tour, but return with thoughts of suicide and post traumatic stress.
Some statistics are commonly known, such as an estimated 20 veterans die by suicide every day. But what the greater community may not realize is the problem is getting worse. From 2005 to 2016, the number of veterans who committed suicide increased by nearly 26 percent, according to research on the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs’ website.
For some, it’s a day of remembrance for lives lost in battle. For others, it’s a painful reminder that they lived to return home.
For Bryan Jacobs, it was this weekend five years ago that changed his life forever.
“Memorial Day weekend [in] 2014, I got a call that he took his life," said Jacobs.
He and his brother Kevin, both served in the invasion of Iraq in 2003. Both struggled when they returned home.
“Fell through the cracks," Jacobs said. "Fell through life.”
But Bryan became a chef. He said it’s what saved him. Kevin never found his healthy outlet.
“I don’t understand suicide," Jacobs said. "I do understand being lonely. I do understand feeling different, not feeling like I belong.”
They’re feelings many veterans have a hard time dealing with, but why?
“Because you can’t do your job," Jacobs said. "As a battlefield paramedic, if I had to deal with hearing somebody scream for their mother, I couldn’t. I couldn’t do that. I had to do my job.”
So Jacobs said they’d suppress trauma after trauma, essentially becoming the robot they were trained to be.
“And you’re not allowed to actually emotionally break that down and understand it because there’s a mission,” he explained.
A mission to keep pushing ahead, looking out for the lives of the guys on your left, right, front and back. It leaves little time to digest the reality of combat.
“And after all the combat and being effective, what do you do? You have do deal with it somehow, right," said Jacobs.
But that’s the problem, many vets don’t or can’t. Post Traumatic Stress Disorder affects as many as 20 out of every 100 veterans who served in Iraq, 12 out of every 100 Gulf War vets and 30 out of every 100 Vietnam veterans, according to the National Center for PTSD. They also say many factors contribute to the cause of this mental illness, including their role in the war, the politics surrounding it and where the war was fought.
Even those who have reached emotional stability say they still fight a daily battle.
“Some days are better, some days are not. Some days memories come, some days memories don’t," Jacobs added.
Jacobs said what’s helped him to cope most is helping others. He started a non-profit called “Vets 2 Success” that trains homeless veterans to reintegrate back into the community.
For more about his organization, click here.
For more information about PTSD research and statistics from the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs, click here.
For additional research about suicide prevention, click here.
For resources and a link to a Veterans Crisis Line, click here.