Family of Army Vet Who Committed Suicide Starts Petition to Assist Returning Troops
A grieving Minnesota family has started a petition to bring attention to veteran suicides.
Army Specialist Trever Gould of Fulda, in southwestern Minnesota, took his own life in June. His family says he was unable to cope after returning home from service in Iraq. Their mission, they say, is to increase prevention and treatment options for service members as they return to civilian life.
According to an April 2012 report in The New York Times, for every soldier killed on the battlefield in Iraq or Afghanistan this year, about 25 veterans are dying by suicide. In fact, veterans kill themselves at a rate of one every 80 minutes. More than 6,500 troops take their own lives every year.
"He wanted to do something," says Trevor's mother, Sherri Johnson. Trever had a relative who died in the Pentagon during the September 11th, 2001 terrorist attacks.
But when he enlisted in the Army five years later and was sent to Iraq, Trever saw things, and did things, he never could have imagined. "He called me crying, to ask if God was going to forgive him," Johnson says.
When Trever was discharged, "he kept everything he was going through inside himself," Johnson explains.
"He was the strong man in our family," says his sister Brittney DeBlieck. "He took care of us."
"He was the man of the house," adds Johnson. Trever was the second oldest child, and the only son, in a fatherless household.
But Trevor couldn't find a job, or hold a job. Nightmares kept him awake. He began drinking, drugging, and fighting. "I figured he would just work it out," Johnson says.
He was essentially a shell of his former self. "He looked like a little boy when he left, and he looked like he was in his 30s when he came home," Johnson says.
This past June, 25-year-old Trever hung himself in the family garage. "When I opened that door it's just, wow.." says Johnson, her words trailing off and her eyes filling with tears.
"I never got to tell him how much I loved him and how proud we were," says Brittney.
A day after his death, Trever's family discovered his discharge papers in his room--papers that detailed military evaluations where he talked about suicide. They state that Trever expressed "command of thoughts of self harm, depressed mood" or that he had an "adjustment disorder with disturbance of emotions and conduct."
"They should have sent me that paperwork," Johnson says. "They should have picked up that phone. That doctor shouldn't have let him get out of that room once he had suicidal thoughts. He should have been in treatment right there."
Because Trever Gould was an adult, the Army was under no obligation to show his family his discharge papers. But Trever's family believes the information should have been forwarded to the Department of Veteran's Affairs.
To the V.A's credit, it has established a suicide hotline and appointed suicide prevention coordinators in response to the increase in vet suicides. But the department says chipping away at "the warrior culture," where reaching out for help is considered to be a sign of weakness, is difficult to penetrate.
Johnson says of her son, "He was taught that you're a wuss if you seek help. You don't even belong in the military. He did his time, he went to Iraq, he wanted to hold his head up and not be afraid that people would call him a coward."
Trever's family is now circulating this petition. It outlines ways the government and military can provide comprehensive health, wellness and decompression training for all service personnel as they return to civilian life.
"We're not going to stand down and let this happen anymore," Johnson says. "I'm not going to be pushed to the wayside. It's not going to be like my son's paperwork."
The petition talks about creating a process to address the emotional "hidden wounds" of war. "We can instill in them that they're tough fighting machines but we also need to bring them back down to 'normal' when they come back from battle," Johnson says.
And the petition also says nationally standardized programs need to be created for family members of returning service members. "The military could be training them on what to look for, the little hidden things that change," Johnson says.
Their ultimate goal is one million signatures, and to get the petition to the White House.
"They did their part for us," Johnson says of America's vets. "We're failing to do our part for them."
Mark Saxenmeyer can be reached at email@example.com