I Think About Ending My Life Every Day, But I Don’t

Support

Editor’s Note: A version of this article by Bob Raphael originally appeared on the NYC Veterans Alliance blog.


I encountered my first veteran suicide in 1970 when my combat partner, Butch, rode his Harley off a cliff in upstate New York. At his graveside, his young wife screamed at me: “You were his best friend, where the fuck were you?” It was less a question than a pointed accusation.

Not a day goes by that I do not see my Team RWB friends do 22 pushups to bring awareness to the alarming rate and number of suicides by veterans. A new study by the Department of Veterans Affairs using a more detailed methodology has placed the "number" at an average of 20 per day and has more clearly detailed the general demographics behind this number — highlighting frightening increases in female veterans and once again noting that the majority of suicides are men over 50.

Now we are also told that the Veterans Crisis Hotline has been underfunded, poorly trained, and ineffective.

Will we now only do 20 pushups? This is not meant to impugn the heartfelt motives of all those that drop and give 22. And it does raise awareness — as I have seen many many passersby stop and ask “why.”

Bob Raphael, center, runs with his Team RWB teammates in New York City.Courtesy photo

What we do not read about these days is the stories behind these veteran suicides. We seek answers, but have no real personal data. A lot has to do with maintaining the privacy of the family, and I respect this.

What I can and will do is take the very personal step of outlining a life not taken: My own. I do this as my small contribution to building awareness since my lack of arm and upper body strength preclude my doing any number of pushups.

Over the last five years, I have had three small strokes — the first two of which forced me to leave my job as veterans program director at Samaritan Village — removing much purpose from my life, though I remained somewhat active in smaller venues. Coming quickly in succession was kidney disease, prostate cancer (treated with radiation and chemotherapy), followed by radiation proctitis, and radiation cystitis, which has led to numerous surgeries along with a major tubal re-implantation. Over the last 38 months, I’ve only been able to urinate by catheterizing five to six times per day. This has made my quality of life feel unbearable. I have been told that all of this will only get worse. There is not a day that goes by that I do not consider the possibility of ending my life, especially when I project out to the day when I will no longer be capable of taking care of myself.

I remain as active as I can in a very limited comfort zone. Some see me as strong and resilient — a few know the inner turmoil of my life. I do not believe I am unique and I know that some consider me lucky in that there are many worse off than me. I sometimes reflect on this.

Lately I do feel that I am becoming a burden to my close friends — this manifests itself in many ways: acute sensitivity, neediness, and argumentativeness.

So if I were to take my life, it would go down as a veteran suicide, but what does that tell anyone? Yes, I am a veteran and yes, these afflictions are the result of my exposure to Agent Orange 50 years ago, but so what, really, so what? I am not special.

So, what is it that has prevented me from saying, “Fuck it all, this sucks”? Several reasons:

A small group of young friends who I can count on almost every day to stay in touch and who allow me to have a meaningful role in their lives. It is sometimes enough and sometimes not enough — some understand and some don't.

Some hope that I may relocate to be near the small family that I remain in touch with and to see, for a while, my youngest grandson grow a bit and to see my oldest grandson marry. And to see my son-in-law and his lovely wife more often. This relocation is for me a logistical nightmare.

Some hope that if I do not relocate I will find some meaning up here — but I doubt it — all that there is up here is convenience to continue to be "comfortably uncomfortable" and to delude myself with magical thinking.

And the existential fear that a suicide may fail or that there really is some awful fate waiting after death — who knows.

Related: Majority Of Veteran Suicides Are 50 And Older And We Don’t Know Why »

I write this because in some small way I want to shed some sunshine of reality into a dark area and perhaps add to the question of what are the signs, and what, if anything, can be done.

I say again that I am not special because I am a veteran — I am just another old geezer on his way out — living in the days of past glory.

The main thing that has kept me alive these past 27 months is Team RWB and a big handful of teammates: veterans and civilians.

It is not enough to be strong enough to stand alone; you must be brave enough to ask for help.

And for as long as you can: Make your legs move each morning despite the unknown.

Bob Raphael is a Vietnam veteran who served in the U.S. Marine Corps from 1964 to 1972. He currently serves as Advisor Emeritus and Policy Fellow of the NYC Veterans Alliance.

AP photo by John Minchillo
(U.S. Air Force photo)

An Air Force major drowned in a Caribbean Princess cruise ship pool Friday morning, the Broward Medical Examiner's Office said

Stephen Osakue, 37, worked for the Air Force as a research pharmacist, according to a statement by the Medical Examiner's Office on Monday. Osakue was based at Columbus Air Force Base in Mississippi.

Read More Show Less
(Facebook)

A Marine was killed in a crash near Marine Corps Air Station Beaufort on Saturday afternoon.

Lance Cpl. Derrick Thirkill, 21, of Florence, Alabama, was an active-duty Marine stationed in Beaufort, said Beaufort County Coroner Ed Allen.

Read More Show Less
An aerial view of the Pentagon building in Washington, June 15, 2005. U.S. Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld defended the Guantanamo prison against critics who want it closed by saying U.S. taxpayers have a big financial stake in it and no other facility could replace it at a Pentagon briefing on Tuesday. (Reuters/Jason Reed JIR/CN)

The Pentagon is sending nearly 1,000 more troops to the Middle East as part of an escalating crisis with Iran that defense officials are struggling to explain.

While the U.S. government has publicly blamed Iran for recent attacks on merchant vessels in the Gulf of Oman, not a single U.S. official has provided a shred of proof linking Iran to the explosive devices found on the merchant ships.

At an off-camera briefing on Monday, Navy officials acknowledged that nothing in imagery released by the Pentagon shows Iranian Revolutionary Guards planting limpet mines on ships in the Gulf of Oman.

Read More Show Less
Photo: Lance Cpl. Taylor Cooper

The Marine lieutenant colonel removed from command of the 1st Reconnaissance Battalion in May was ousted over alleged "misconduct" but has not been charged with a crime, Task & Purpose has learned.

Lt. Col. Francisco Zavala, 42, who was removed from his post by the commanding general of 1st Marine Division on May 7, has since been reassigned to the command element of 1st Marine Expeditionary Force, and a decision on whether he will be charged is "still pending," MEF spokeswoman 1st Lt. Virginia Burger told Task & Purpose last week.

"We are not aware of any ongoing or additional investigations of Lt. Col. Zavala at this time," MEF spokesman 2nd Lt. Brian Tuthill told Task & Purpose on Monday. "The command investigation was closed May 14 and the alleged misconduct concerns Articles 128 and 133 of the UCMJ," Tuthill added, mentioning offenses under military law that deal with assault and conduct unbecoming an officer and gentleman.

"There is a period of due process afforded the accused and he is presumed innocent until proven guilty," he said.

When asked for an explanation for the delay, MEF officials directed Task & Purpose to contact 1st Marine Division officials, who did not respond before deadline.

The investigation of Zavala, completed on May 3 and released to Task & Purpose in response to a Freedom of Information Act request, showed that he had allegedly acted inappropriately. The report also confirmed some details of his wife's account of alleged domestic violence that Task & Purpose first reported last month.

Read More Show Less
Photo: U.S. Army

A soldier was killed, and another injured, after a Humvee roll-over on Friday in Alaska's Yukon Training Area, the Army announced on Monday.

Read More Show Less