“Facing Stigma” with General Graham

“My plan was to serve four years and get out. I ended up staying for 34 1/2, and to be honest it was all because of the soldiers. I had a lot of great folks working for me, and I always tell people I stood on the shoulders of those around me. I had a lot of bosses that gave me latitude to do things and allowed me to make mistakes while learning from them, so that I could grow and get better. Looking back though, I wonder if we could have done more surrounding mental health. In the military we talked a lot about mind, body, spirit. We did a lot with the body and physical fitness, we had a chaplain in the units and down to the lower levels to cover the spiritual piece, but I thought “what are we doing for the mind?” I thought a lot more about it after we lost our son Kevin, and looked at it through a different lens with our soldiers too….”

“I started seeing things differently after Kevin died by suicide. We made mistakes, and we missed signs. My wife and I think we were part of the stigma too, but we just didn’t know enough about it. We knew our son was sad, but didn’t know you could die from being too sad. Everyone gets sad but Kevin was more than sad, and we didn’t pick up on that. He even told us on the phone one time, “Mom did you know depression is a real illness?”, but that was 15 years ago when we didn’t know much about it. He would point out little things or say things, and we just never picked up on them. After Kevin died in June of 2003, our other son Jeffrey died eight months later in Iraq after being hit by an IED. I was really having a hard time sleeping after our boys died and with everything going on, so I finally realized I needed help too. It was hard to ask for help, so I understand how hard it can be to reach out…”

“I remember the night before our son Jeffrey deployed he called us late one night and was crying. He said a soldier came to his door and asked him if he was the brother of the lieutenant that died by suicide. After Jeff said that he was, the soldier said he was having the same kind of thoughts but was scared to say anything because all he ever wanted was to be in the Army. Jeff made it a priority to tell the soldier, “there are other ways to serve, but the most important thing you can do is get help and stay alive to do them.” Jeff was pretty emotional about it, so he said to me “Promise me that you’ll keep doing what you’re doing and speaking out on mental health.” One of the reasons I ended up here at Vets4Warriors was to be a part of folks getting help before it becomes a crisis. One of the first things we do when people call is thank them for calling, because I personally know it’s not easy to make that call. We tell folks we’re on the journey with you, and we want you to discover the power of connection.”

Healing the hidden wounds of war