More Than a Number:
The Stories of Veteran Suicides

WRITTEN BY FAMILY MEMBERS

With an average of 20 military suicides per day, it is near impossible to reach our goal of creating the only online memorial of every service man and woman who killed themselves as veterans or as active duty. We endeavor to find as many as possible. If you can help, please email us here with your story and pictures of life before PTSD.

Chelsea Ann Gonzalez

My name is Joseph A. Gonzalez, my wife, a former Army officer, recently passed away. We are currently overseas at Naval station Rota in Spain. Because of her government job, I am concerned about the financial costs of her burial and transport back to the United States. Would this program be able to assist me and my family?

We have 4 children together. My wife was our family main source of income. I still have the cremation bill that is almost $3,000. Thank you for all you do.

black star for soldier suicide

Sivert Rafter

I’m reaching out to you today to see if you might be able to help or point me in the right direction of some help for myself and my two children after the suicide of their dad 8 months ago. He was receiving VA disability as well as regular disability for PTSD. He had 100% of the disability for the PTSD and another 25% for back and neck injuries. We lived off of his income between his VA disability and his regular disability.

When he committed suicide we were left with nothing. My kids got denied survivor benefits because of the fact that he had not served during an active wartime.

I just need some assistance getting back on my feet trying to find a place to live, accumulating deposits and all that is very daunting and scary for all of us, with him gone. We lived in the house with no electricity and no water for close to a month and now we’re staying with my sister which is a very temporary situation and I just don’t know where to turn.

black star for soldier suicide

Mickey Keeney

His name is Mickey Keeney. He served as 11C airborne for 8 years. He did tours in Kuwait and Panama in the 90’s. He was 42 years old when he passed away. After he got out of the military due to medical issues, his knees and back, he moved to New York where our family is, our father retired after 21 years 11B. He stayed up here in an unhealthy marriage and then they ended up moving to Georgia just outside of Ft. Stewart. He loved carpentry work so he did a lot of side jobs where he could and worked all the time on beautiful houses. While in Georgia his wife ended up leaving him and taking their 3 kids and moved to Oregon. This was devastating to him and ultimately started his downward spiral.. He ended up getting remarried and his son moved back in with him so that helped him a little. He started going to the VA because of his back and knees and potential cancer. He was up to a 45% rating and had 6 open cases to reevaluate for a higher rating, at the time of his death. Last year he was told that he would be paralyzed by the end of 2020 if he didn’t have something done to his back. This set him way back because the VA kept cancelling his appointments. He was in so much pain. Last November his son, who had then joined the military himself as a combat medic, tried committing suicide and ended up hospitalized with TBI and PTSD. He is in process of getting a medical discharge. Mickey was struggling with his marriage too. He had a lot against him. But he always had the biggest heart for other Military members, current and prior service. He advocated for veteran suicide and was always there every single time someone called him for help. He was an amazing uncle and was starting to be a better dad too. He had a hard childhood so he wasn’t the easiest person to live with… And he was very strong willed so that easily caused conflict with people in his life. But overall, there’s not a single person that doesn’t have anything good to say about him or how he’s helped them in one way or another..

For many years he has always struggled with depression/anxiety. He’s reached out for help, he’s been on meds, he’s done everything he was supposed to do. But I know sometimes those thoughts can just take over and act on impulse. He owned guns. He could openly carry in Georgia so he always had his pistol on him. Some nights he would hold it to his head and calmly ask, what if I just pull the trigger now? And we always said, shut up you’re not going to do that. And he never did.. The evening of April 15th wasn’t supposed to be any different. He had a busy day working outside in the yard and could barely move because of the pain that evening. His wife came home from work and he said “hello beautiful”. She instantly started in on him yelling at him about going into her daughters room and moving something and he argued that the dog did it and it just escalated from there. At about 5:40pm he pulled our her pistol and said, how about I just end this now?, he put it to his chin and it went off. We don’t know if it was intentional or if it was accidental because it was a smaller pistol than his and he was a bigger guy… We are telling ourselves it was accidental because that’s what’s getting us through… His wife said the look on his face when the gun went off was instant regret.. He died within a second. It was so tragic and unexpected…

The funeral home in Georgia did the embalming and transported him to Maryland for his burial. Due to the virus he wasn’t able to have the full military honors that he should have got. We did have TAPS played in a distant. Our father and Mickeys son folded the flag because they are both military and knew that process. So we did what we could to honor him. We played amazing grace at the cemetery too. We couldn’t have a lot of friends or family there either because of the virus…

I know the VA was paying $300 towards the headstone. That was part of the $1,800 my mom paid at the funeral home initially. The $6,000 that I paid was not expected to be due until life insurance was figured out but I guess because of the virus things had to be done sooner… Now we know that the VA won’t be paying anymore life insurance because he wasn’t a 100% disability rating.. I struggle with that because the PTSD was part of his disability rating and his death certificate says PTSD so I feel like he should have gotten the full life insurance.. That’s why I reached out to you guys and anyone else who would have resources for us to help pay for his funeral services. His wife may not even get her life insurance policy she had on him because of the strict no suicide rule they have for the policy… So she isn’t even able to help pay off some of the debt my mom and I are carrying. On top of all of this, I refinanced his truck so that it didn’t get repossessed. His truck was his escape from everything. He would sit in it every night and listen to music and call family and friends.

Mickey and his son who also acquired PTSD.

LTC Robert Zaza

LTC Robert N. Zaza served as the G 13 Section Chief, in support of United States Army Space and Missile Defense Command, located at Peterson Air Force Base, Colorado Springs, Colorado. Prior to his current assignment, he served as an Army Space Support Team Leader, 1st Space Battalion. He was able to hide his PTSD and his depression up until his last day. He was 55.

In March 17, 2019, his depression and PTSD moved him to commit veteran suicide. Living in New Mexico and working for the U. S. Army, his PTSD was linked to his two tours of Afghanistan. His wife recalls one story that she believes is at the heart of his PTSD. He hired a 12-year-old Afghan village boy to help distrubute food to the village. They became close and Robert was happy to help him and his family. After leaving and returning to the village one day, he found that boy strung up in a tree by the Taliban.

Robert entered his bathroom at his home in New Mexico he shared with his wife and two children, a son and a daughter, and his .38 revolver.

His wife burst into the room to stop him. Immediately, she saw him with the muzzle of the gun inside his mouth. Mrs. Zaza fought with her husband to save his life. In the struggle, an errant shot pierced her hand and then Robert’s sternum. Blood gushed from the new wound. As she dealt with the shock and pain in her own hand, and watching her husband’s life blood leaving his body, Robert successfully completed his final mission. He put the gun to his temple and fired his weapon.

Now, with 7 incidents of shock in that one incident, Mrs. Zaza suffers from the PTSD acquired during this event. She and her family know that there was two Roberts. One before PTSD and one after.

Read the Silver Lining Memorial written by his wife.

 

Bob and his daughter Miki 

Bob and his daughter Miki 

LTC Robert Zaza

LTC Robert N. Zaza served as the G 13 Section Chief, in support of United States Army Space and Missile Defense Command, located at Peterson Air Force Base, Colorado Springs, Colorado. Prior to his current assignment, he served as an Army Space Support Team Leader, 1st Space Battalion.

On March 2019, his depression and PTSD moved him to commit veteran suicide. Living in New Mexico and working for the U. S. Army, his PTSD was linked to his two tours of Afghanistan. His wife recalls one story that she believes is at the heart of his PTSD. He hired a 12-year-old Afghan village boy to help distribute food to the village. They became close and Robert was happy to help him and his family. After leaving and returning to the village one day, he found that boy strung up in a tree by the Taliban.

Robert entered his bathroom at his home in New Mexico he shared with his wife and two children, a son and a daughter, and his .38 revolver.

His wife burst into the room to stop him. Immediately, she saw him with the muzzle of the gun inside his mouth. Mrs. Zaza fought with her husband to save his life. In the struggle, an errant shot pierced her hand and then Robert’s sternum. Blood gushed from the new wound. As she dealt with the shock and and pain in her own hand, and watching her husband’s life blood leaving his body, Robert, her husband of 30+ years, successfully completed his final mission. He put the gun to his temple and fired his weapon.

Now, with 7 incidents of shock in that one incident, Mrs. Zaza suffers from the PTSD acquired during this event. She and her family know that there was two Roberts. One before PTSD and one after.

Read the Silver Lining Memorial written by his wife.

 

Jarod Johns

Jarod Johns enlisted eager to serve his country and keep his family safe from the terror of 9/11 that deeply moved him. He served his tours of duty overseas and returned home a changed young man. The carefree boy who left the nest returned a hardened and frightened PTSD victim.

He shared an apartment with his twin brother in Greenville, South Carolina. Unbeknownst to his family until months after his death, inmates at a local prison were attempting to blackmail Jarod. They illegally obtained his cell phone number and sent him unsoliceted images of a young girl. His texts prove that he was doing the right thing, but his convicted blackmailers insisted he pay them or he would be exposed.

On 9/11/2018, Jarod succumbed to his PTSD and the blackmail plot against him. He recorded a video on his phone moments before his shot himself. His last words were “this is best for everyone.” His twin brother found his body later that day. The funeral home in their hometown would not allow Jarod’s family to see him until they paid $5,000.

Read his Silver Lining Memorial written by his parents.

 

Jarod with his Mom Kathy.

Jarod with his Mom Kathy.

Jarod Johns

Jarod Johns enlisted eager to serve his country and keep his family safe from the terror of 9/11 that deeply moved him. He served his tours of duty overseas and returned home a changed young man. The carefree boy who left the nest returned a hardened and frightened PTSD victim.

He shared an apartment with his twin brother in Greenville, South Carolina. Unbeknownst to his family until months after his death, inmates at a local prison were attempting to blackmail Jarod. They illegally obtained his cell phone number and sent him unsoliceted images of a young girl. His texts prove that he was doing the right thing, but his convicted blackmailers insisted he pay them or he would be exposed.

On 9/11/2018, Jarod succumbed to his PTSD and the blackmail plot against him. He recorded a video on his phone moments before his shot himself. His last words were “this is best for everyone.” His twin brother found his body later that day. The funeral home in their hometown would not allow Jarod’s family to see him until they paid $5,000.

Read his Silver Lining Memorial written by his parents.

 

Cedrick Taylor

Cedrick Taylor enlisted in the Army right after 9/11. He loved to play baseball growing up and was an exceptional athelte. His mother was nervous about his decision to enlist, but her and her father and Cedric’s sister were proud of his decision.

Cedric served three tours in Iraq, but acquired PTSD from the IEDs and his time in country. Moving back to the states, he settled in Florida and was getting help for his PTSD and depression. He was divorced from his wife and had lost custody of his daughter. The rest of his family was still living in Connecticut. He was alone.

One week after the VA switched his psychiatrist, Cedric had enough. He went to his apartment and fired one shot into his temple. He was found days later. The VA refused to fly or help to fly his body home and he sat for days in a morgue until his family could make the payment arrangements.

Read his Silver Lining Memorial written by him Mom.

 

Cedrick and his wife

Cedrick and his wife

Cedrick Taylor

Cedrick Taylor enlisted in the Army right after 9/11. He loved to play baseball growing up and was an exceptional athelte. His mother was nervous about his decision to enlist, but her and her father and Cedric’s sister were proud of his decision.

Cedric served three tours in Iraq, but acquired PTSD from the IEDs and his time in country. Moving back to the states, he settled in Florida and was getting help for his PTSD and depression. He was divorced from his wife and had lost custody of his daughter. The rest of his family was still living in Connecticut. He was alone.

One week after the VA switched his psychiatrist, Cedric had enough. He went to his apartment and fired one shot into his temple. He was found days later. The VA refused to fly or help to fly his body home and he sat for days in a morgue until his family could make the payment arrangements.

Read his Silver Lining Memorial written by him Mom.

 

The Final Sacrifice

Veteran Suicides in VA Parking Lots

There were 19 suicides on VA campuses from October 2017 to November 2018, including Marine Colonel Jim Turner. Turner, 55, dressed in his uniform blues and medals, sat on top of his military and VA records and killed himself with a rifle outside the Bay Pines Department of Veterans Affairs in St. Petersburg, Florida.

The Harshest Critics

“I bet if you look at the 22 suicides a day you will see VA screwed up in 90%,” wrote Jim Turner, a retired Marine Colonel who took his own life with a rifle at a VA.

On December 10, after a major battle with PTSD, Turner woke up that morning with one purpose, to make a statement about how dismal VA treats veterans. He put on his dress uniform with medals, loaded his rifle, and drove to Bay Pines VA Medical Center.

Turner exited his truck armed with a loaded rifle and his VA records. He stacked those records high, sat on top of them, and took his own life while sitting on the records using his rifle.

The Marine veteran, who was well-known and well-respected in military circles, wrote about his post-military experience in his suicide note, “I did 20+ years, had PTSD and still had to pay over $1,000 a month health care.”

Administration Failure

His suicide occurred just as GAO released its scalding report covering poor message management at VA concerning suicide. That report critiqued the agency for failing to spend its $20 million per year budget on continued suicide prevention messaging as it did until 2016.

The report highlighted, though, that a failure to spend the money was not necessarily the issue. The underlying problem was VA’s failure to account for how the millions in suicide advertising was truly benefiting veterans versus the advertisers working on the projects.

Apparently, in light of the continued suicide rates, the suicide prevention mission was turned into a cash cow for vendors without contemplating measuring the benefit to veterans. How typical?

According to Tampa Bay Times:

As for Turner, his model military life turned upside down after he retired.

“My brother’s identity was being a Marine,” said Jon Turner.

Jim Turner flew F-18s and then became an infantry officer, taking part in the invasion of Iraq in 2003. He later served in Afghanistan and spent a decade working at U.S. Central Command at MacDill Air Force Base.

Turner left “an enduring legacy of professionalism, commitment and superior leadership which served as a guiding force for all service members whose lives he touched,” said Edward Dorman III, a recently retired Army major general who worked with Turner at Central Command for a decade. “That’s a life worth emulating.”

When Turner Retired

He lost his identity and began to struggle, his younger brother said.

Those problems exacerbated some of the mental health issues Turner was experiencing from his time in the Marines, said his ex-wife, and led to the dissolution of their 27-year marriage,

“He came home seemingly fine,” said Jennifer Turner. “It was a couple of years later that he just got more aggressive.”

Excerpted from The Tampa Bay Times and HOWARD ALTMAN
Military Affairs and General Assignment Reporter article. See it here. Images are theirs as well.

Three Veteran Suicides on VA Campuses
In Five Days in April 2019

April 5, 2019

The body of 29-year-old Gary Pressley was discovered inside a vehicle in the parking lot of Carl Vinson VA Medical Center in Dublin, Georgia.

Pressley had a gunshot wound in his chest and was pronounced dead at 8:45 p.m.

Pressley’s family said he was medically discharged in 2012 after a bad car accident and struggling with mental health care, according to the newspaper.

Lisa Johnson called authorities at the VA on April 5th to warn them about her brother, Navy veteran. “I told them, you know, my brother’s there in the parking lot and that he has a gun and he’s talking about killing himself.”

His mother, Machelle Wilson, told WMAZ-TV that Pressley’s sister called the VA to tell them her brother was threatening suicide from their parking lot just moments before he killed himself.

“He told his girlfriend he was going to do it in the parking lot, so they could find his body, so somebody can pay attention to what’s happening, so other vets do not have to go through this.”

She said her son couldn’t get the help he needed after he was in a car accident and discharged in 2012 and that he was haunted by what he saw serving in Haiti after its devastating earthquake in 2010. “He started talking about, ‘Mom, I’m just, I can’t, I don’t have the fight in me anymore.'”

April 6, 2019

In Decatur, Ga., 68-year-old Olen Hancock of Alpharetta killed himself outside the Atlanta VA Medical Center. Hancock had been seen pacing the lobby of the building before going outside and shooting himself, WSB-TV reported.

Officials did not disclose what branch of the military that Hancock served.

April 9, 2019

A veteran suicide was reported in Austin, Texas when an unidentified veteran shot himself in front of hundreds of people in a waiting room of a VA Clinic. The incident happened shortly after noon, and prompted the building to be shut down.

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