Military suicides; local vet tells his story

TYLER (KYTX) - As we celebrate our veterans for Veteran's Day, we're also taking a look at a devastating issue impacting many of them across the country.

Veteran suicide rates have doubled since 2001. Every day, Tragedy Assistance Program for Survivors, or TAPS, reports that 22 - 28 U.S. veterans take their own lives every day.

"I was done with life," says Andrews Center Peer Counselor J.D. Collett. 

He's used to talking about the struggling veterans he helps, but this time, the Vietnam veteran is sharing his own story - tragedy and all. 

"I was in the Marine Corps, and when I came back everything had changed. I started having severe panic attacks, so bad I had to go to the emergency room a few times a week," Collett says.

He isolated himself from friends, his wife, and his two children.

"What they actually needed was a husband and a father, and that I couldn't give them. Basically for about 37 years, everything in my life was chaotic. Everything I touched I destroyed, and it was just despair. I didn't want to be here."

Suicidal thoughts all stemmed from severe, untreated PTSD and anxiety.

"Big marine, you don't go in for mental help," he recalls thinking.

He believes that stigma around mental health is the reason military suicide rates are still at record numbers.

"Luckily I did have some family that loved me, even as chaotic as I was. They actually took me late one night to the VA."

After months of receiving intensive VA treatment in the psych ward and PTSD inpatient centers, Collett was a changed man.

"They made me realize that I was worth something and that I could actually give back," he says.

Now he spends his life counseling veterans who are lost like he used to be.

"We've got to do more than give them a phone number to the VA. The VA is great but like everything else, it's overwhelmed."

He says the success lies in local community programs that help veterans transition to civilian life, and find proper mental health care.

"There's help out there and if a person wants the help, you can get better," Collett says.

Collett says bringing these suicide numbers down lies in special places like The Greenzone. It's a place the Andrews Center has set up for veterans. Throughout the week, counselors hold sessions there, including family sessions, couple sessions, PTSD sessions and more.

Any veteran can be a part of these programs, or just go to the Greenzone to be a part of the military family lots of local veterans have formed there. 

The Department of Defense has spent $100 million in military suicide prevention campaigns. Military leaders hope the campaigns will help bring awareness, and dissolve the mental health stigma so that suicide numbers can drop.

For more information on the Andrews Center programs, including the Greenzone, click here:


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