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A veteran-to-veteran storytelling project designed to let Miami Valley veterans describe their own experiences, in their own words with a special focus on stories of re-entry into civilian life.

Veteran suicide prevention: 'The only way we can be saved is by each other'

Steven Strain at the WYSO Studios
Seth Gordon
Steven Strain at the WYSO Studios

Trigger warning: this story talks about suicide.

In this season’s second installment of Veterans' Voices, Lead Producer Seth Gordon spoke with local Marine Corps Veteran, Steven Strain. Strain served in Iraq and suicide has affected him and his unit post-deployment. He believes that to prevent Veteran suicide, former service members need to take care of each other. We begin this piece with Strain reading the names of the people in his unit who have died by suicide.

(Transcript edited lightly for clarity and length)

Steven Strain: The list of names is: Tom Morton, Taylor Hopson, Tyler Cone,Michael Dunn,Tyler Vanhoose,Marc Plotts,Clay Newberry,Clint Middleton,Zach Olson,Kasey Ozzello,Brandon Thibodeaux,Matt Brinker, and Joshua Varner.

Those are just the ones from my unit that served at the same time as I did. Those are the ones that I know about.

Seth Gordon: When I first asked you about doing this interview, your reaction to the conversation around suicide in the veteran community was...clearly you had an opinion.

Steven: Yeah, and my opinion is a little jaded and a little cynical. I just read you a list of names and I knew most of them. So to me, it's personal.

I don't think the VA, the federal government, or the Department of Defense is ever going to be able to offer a workable solution.

It's going to be a lot of talk, a lot of PowerPoint slides and presentations, and there's going to be hotlines and phone numbers and there's going to be swag with who you can text or call when you're feeling down, right?

But the real nitty gritty of it is those individuals, those Veterans being able to talk directly with someone who is in no way, shape, or form an authority figure or acting in some official capacity because the problem is: How do I tell a total stranger what's going through my head right now?

This originates in this close-knit community that I was a part of. And now I'm going to tell you all our secrets? I'm going to tell you about it and how I feel at night when I lie down and stare at the ceiling? Probably not.

But I don't have to explain it to the guy who stood next to me when shit was hitting the fan. He was there. He's probably feeling the same way. So I think we are our own saviors. I think we're not just in the best position to save each other. I think in a lot of cases the only way we can be saved is by each other. That's the magic ingredient that no one's figured out.

We have this out processing that happens in the military. That's a good time to be telling folks: 'You may not believe me, but you better make sure you have the cell phone number and contact information of everybody you served with if only to check in on them now and then.'

So you took care of each other during this time and you're going to have to continue taking care of each other afterwards. That part never stops.

Talking about brotherhood and Semper Fi. Once a marine, always a marine, there's no such thing as an ex-Marine. There's all this bravado behind those things. If you take it to heart, you don't have temporary brothers, it's forever, and you have to treat it that way. I think if that angle was beaten into more people's heads before they left the military, I don't know, maybe you would see a dip. It's not gonna solve anything but just maybe you see a dip.

Strain is a Wright State graduate and works as an attorney in the Miami Valley.

Veterans' Voices is produced at the Eichelberger Center for Community Voices at WYSO. Support for the series comes from Wright-Patt Credit Union.

The 988 Suicide and Crisis Lifeline is a hotline for individuals in crisis or for those looking to help someone else. To speak with a trained listener, call 988. Veterans and their loved ones can also call 800-273-8255 or text 838255 to reach the Veterans Crisis Line.

Seth Gordon, Ph.D., is the director of the Veteran and Military Center at Wright State University and a Community Voices producer. Seth has worked with hundreds of student veterans through the VMC and works with other veteran support organizations in the region and nationally. He is a graduate of Antioch College and earned his doctorate in Educational Policy and Leadership from The Ohio State University in 2013. A native to Yellow Springs, Ohio, he has been active with WYSO Public Radio since 2007.
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