Military suicides up this year, VFW post commander tries to make a difference

Published: Oct. 26, 2020 at 8:46 PM CDT
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WICHITA, Kan. (KWCH) - A recent report shows military suicides are up by 20% since this time last year. Army and Air Force officials say they believe the pandemic is adding stress to an already strained force.

Martin Garcia, a military veteran, is now commander of VFW Post 112. He said he has lost people close to him to suicide.

“I’ve lost a comrade in the past who committed suicide,” said Garcia. “We lost one of our members here who was a Vietnam veteran that also committed suicide."

Anxiety and depression are among other health issues that have been a problem for many in the United States, including military veterans. An estimated 22 veterans commit suicide every day.

“I’ve been there, I’ve struggled with my own demons,” said John Gardner, a Marine veteran who has struggled with anxiety and depression. “The hurt that you feel, the pain you feel, it just really affects you.”

Gardner said he knew something was off when he came back from Iraq in 2008.

“I noticed that something wasn’t right,” said Gardner. “I was feeling down, my anxiety was incredibly high, so I went and spoke to a civilian doctor and was diagnosed with anxiety and depression.”

Stories like Gardner’s are what motivated Garcia to try and make a difference. This month, he and a local social worker who works with veterans launched PTSD clinics at VFW Post 112 in hopes of reaching someone in need.

“You can talk about anything,” said Garcia. “You can talk about your football team for all we care.”

Social worker Tonya Ross volunteers her time.

“We want this to be all-inclusive,” said Ross. " So it can be someone who is just having a bad day, somebody who is suffering from PTSD, maybe they have suicidal thoughts. But we want to make them feel like they’re at home."

The clinics are held every Friday evening at VFW Post 112, 1560 S Topeka. There are two sessions, one for men from 4:30-5:30 p.m. and another for women from 6-7 p.m. All active duty military, police officers and firefighters are welcome. This program is not affiliated with the Department of Veterans Affairs or Veterans Healthcare Administration.

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