US veterans' suicide rates highest in rural areas including West Virginia

NICHOLAS COUNTY, W. Va. (WVNS) -

Fighting for our country is the ultimate sacrifice, but coming home after war- for some- can be another battle. Doctors say nationwide, more than 20 veterans commit suicide daily.  

Several years after coming home from war, Jeremy Ray says he hit rock bottom. "I basically lost everything that I worked for in one day," Ray said.  "I was let go from the sheriff's department and my wife and our two kids left me on the same day. "
 
At the young age of 18, Ray joined the Army where he trained to be in an artillery unit.  In 2004, he was deployed to Iraq.  "I was a gunner so always scanning the sides of the road for wires or anything that looked out of place," Ray said.  
 
After 15 months overseas, Ray came home to his wife and a son he had only known for one day before leaving.  "I had a 15-month-old son I didn't know.  Going from 120 degrees dirt everywhere, scanning roads, repeating everyday things to there's a bunch of people moving. I don't know the pattern; I don't know what's normal here."
 
Instead the normal became depressing thoughts, losing track of time and blacking out for several days.  "I just kept my mouth shut. I went back to work at the sheriff's department as a deputy and smiled and went on."
 
But pretending like everything was okay only worked for so long.  "There were many nights I would sit there with my pistol and think, I don't have anything else. It's all gone. No family. No job." 
 
Ray said he feared his young children, wife or even his friends at the sheriff's department would find his body, so he kept burying his suicidal thoughts."I thought everyday well I will just give it one more day and see what happens." 
 
Desperate for help, Ray started going to the Beckley VA Medical Center where he was diagnosed with PTSD.
 
"There are a number of veterans who contemplates suicide is not trivial, it's a health issue," Doctor John Kasckow, Director said. Kasckow is the Director of Mental Heath at the Beckley VA.  He says nationwide, more than 20 veterans take their own life every day. It's the highest suicide rate among any group of people. 

"West Virginia is a high-risk area. For instance, there is the opiate crisis, which is a problem that puts people at higher-risk. The isolation is also hard here," Dr. Kasckow said. 

Ray also said he's lost co-workers, friends, and a cousin to suicide-- all of them veterans.

Doctors say it's important to know the warning signs including depression, having a hard time adjusting back at home, or maybe they start talking about hurting themselves or other people.

Ray attended a rigorous 4-month therapy program at the Beckley Va.  He says he no longer has suicidal thoughts, but depression is still something he battles with daily.  "Once I got over wanting to kill myself,  I thought what do I want most? What can I get back? And it was my family I wanted the most."
 
Today his family is back together. His two sons aspire to be like their father and serve in the military. Ray is unable to work, but now spends his days with family and keeps himself busy with new hobbies including bee keeping and making maple syrup. 
 
His advice to other veterans struggling with the fight:  Find something you want and work for it. 

If you know a veteran who may need help- you should encourage them to reach out to their local VA or call the veteran crisis number at 1-800-273-8255. 


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