Veterans 911: What’s Being Done to Combat Suicide After Service

This is an archived article and the information in the article may be outdated. Please look at the time stamp on the story to see when it was last updated.

It's a bond that began when they were kids, growing even stronger as they got older. Suzanne Perez said she tried everything.

"It was very hard. I wanted to make him better,” she said.

As the big sister, she felt a sense of responsibility.

“It was out of my control, and that was hard to accept,” Perez said.

Her brother, Gary Scott, is a Vietnam veteran who she said is battling severe depression and early signs of multiple sclerosis.

“He felt like it was hopeless, like nobody could help him. So he wanted to end his life,” Perez explained, fighting back tears.

She said she knew her brother was going to do something, but she didn’t imagine what was about to happen.

On July 28, right after he was released from Doctors Behavioral Health Center in Modesto, Scott went to Costco. He was shot by an off-duty police officer after lunging at him with a knife, according to investigators.

He survived and is now in the Stanislaus County Jail.

“He keeps moving closer and closer to the man with the gun until the man shoots him,” Perez said.

His sister doesn’t believe Scott was trying to hurt anyone. She said he just wanted to die.

Scott is not alone. According to a recent report by the Department of Veterans Affairs, 20 veterans commit suicide every day in this country. It’s a slight drop from the previous rate of 22.

“I still find it personally alarming to know that we are losing 20 great people each and every day. That's just too high,” Dr. David Hammer said.

Hammer is a psychologist who works closely with former service members as a part of the Soldiers Project. The group is a local nonprofit that helps post-9/11 vets and their families who are dealing with after-effects of war. He said veterans see suicide as an option over fears of becoming a burden.

“They have this ethic of literally soldiering on,” Hammer explained.

That's why Hammer provides his counseling services for free. There is no session limit. He works with the veteran and their family as long as is needed. He believes the public and the veteran community need to demand more from access to care, and this includes the VA.

“I still get plenty of reports from service members about the lack of availability to care,” Hammer said.

But the Sacramento VA Medical Center said that is not the case. Tara Ricks is a public affairs officer at the facility, and she said mental health and suicide is taken very seriously.

“It’s my job. It’s my job today and every day as long as I work for the VA to show them not only with my words, but with my actions, that we can best trusted, ” Ricks said.

According to Ricks, wait times are not an issue. She said wait times for mental health patients are no more than five days and those contemplating suicide are seen immediately.

The agency also offers a crisis hotline, 800-273-8255, for veterans and their families.

“That crisis line is going to connect them to people on the ground to ensure they can get the care they need,” Ricks said.

According to Ricks, one life is one too many.

Helpful Links: 

Veterans Crisis Line

VA App Store

The Soldiers Project