COLUMBUS (WCMH) – They put their lives on the line for our country, but the hidden toll for our service members and veterans is often post-traumatic stress disorder.
And many of them suffer in silence.
“This is going to be the first time I’m talking about this in a very public forum,” said Army Captain Danny Eakins.
He is sharing his story in hopes of saving a life.
“I’m a survivor of suicide while on active duty,” Eakins admitted.
Eakins enlisted in the U.S. Army after 9/11. While training to become an officer, he was injured both physical and mentally.
“Having my utility in the Army be questioned, it was a very lonely experience,” he said.
So lonely, he didn’t want to live. He thought his future in the Army was ruined.
“It wasn’t anything anyone had ever said or anything anyone had ever done,” Eakins said. “It was just, I had this impression, whether it was the movies or listening to older veterans talking about their experiences.”
He survived, and without seeking real help, became the officer he wanted to be, serving 12 months in Iraq.
“Leading a tank platoon, where I lead more than 300 combat missions,” Eakins said of his duty.
He left the Army honorably; his problems, as with many veterans, left with him.
“As it took me longer to find work in particular, it took me months to find a steady job,” Eakins said. “I began to really miss the Army. I really began to miss soldiers. This feeling was there that I was never going to be able to adapt to civilian life.”
In the military, prepared to die for his job, he couldn’t imagine why someone wouldn’t hire him now.
He started drinking, taking risks, and his marriage was breaking down.
“At that point, my pride was very much preventing me from trying to seek that help,” Eakins admitted. “It wasn’t how it was supposed to go. I don’t need help. I’m this independent person who is capable of dealing with this myself.”
While very personal, Eakins story is not uncommon.
In 2018, 211 veterans in Ohio died by suicide. Nationally, that number exceeded 6,000.
Even more veterans are struggling in silence.
“The old-school mentality, that stigma, (that) seeking professional help is a sign of weakness,” said Jason Hughes, veteran liaison for the Ohio Suicide Prevention Foundation.
An Army veteran himself, Hughes said PTSD looks like a dramatic change in behavior, at times hostile, and can be tricky, sometimes not showing up for years, making it hard for loved ones to understand.
“Age is not a factor,” Hughes said. “We have this idea that it’s the younger generation. The numbers show that is not the case.”
In fact, the highest rate of suicide in veterans is between the ages of 55 and 74, meaning the majority have been out of the military for a while.
Luckily, there is both help and hope.
For Eakins, it was a reluctant decision to meet a marriage counselor with his ex-wife, who referred him to the counselor he still sees today, 14 years later.
“I credit him with sending me on a path of wellness, maybe even saving my life,” Eakins said.
If you suspect someone is dealing with PTSD and is at risk of attempting suicide, experts said it’s important to be direct and ask them if they are considering hurting or killing themselves. When suggesting counseling, it’s important to not make comments about “fixing” them, but helping them.