JOINT BASE MYER-HENDERSON HALL, Va. — Like many service members, Wess Brown, a retired U.S. Army sergeant, saw a lot during his time in the Army. Some of what he experienced, including the trauma of various injuries, led him to consider suicide to escape the battlefields of his own mind.
"Yeah, I was injured in Afghanistan," he said.
Brown’s last deployment was particularly devastating.
"My last injury was mostly (to) my dog; I was a canine handler, so he lost his leg,” he said.
Upon returning home, Brown attempted to ‘Soldier on,’ but the accumulated injuries took their toll.
"I started to go to the doctors, and they told me that I couldn't do my job anymore. So that was probably the worst part of it all," he said, a hint of emotion in his voice.
Like many others, the struggle to find purpose took over. Depression, compounded by medical issues, began to take hold, leading to a chip on Brown’s shoulder and a misguided belief that others owed him something, he said.
Brown sought help and began to recognize the toll his Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder was taking on his personal life. It led to the dissolution of his first marriage.
A second chance at love with a fellow military veteran who understood his struggles provided a lifeline, and his wife has stuck by him, he said.
After grappling with survivor guilt and a sense of purposelessness, Brown said a realization led to a different way of thinking.
"I'm the one who owes people," he said.
Brown realized that he was responsible for his own well-being and path to recovery.
"It was no one's fault, or really no one else's responsibility for my well-being, except for myself," he said.
Brown’s recovery journey involved various therapies, including art, music and animal therapy, along with numerous medications and treatments. But the turning point, he said, was finding a dedicated therapist who guided him through the darkest times.
Although Brown still has moments of struggle, he has crafted a life around his disabilities, finding purpose in helping others facing similar battles.
"I feel really good about everything now," Brown said. “You have to decide you want to be better.”
HOW BYSTANDERS CAN HELP
Commander Jeff Showalter, clinical psychologist with the U.S. Public Health Service and chief of Behavioral Health Andrew Rader U.S. Army Health Clinic at Joint Base Myer-Henderson Hall, said being able to tell if a person is at risk starts with knowing and connecting with that person.
"Getting to know the men and women in our ranks is perhaps the best way we become better able to identify those at risk,” he said. “We need to get to know someone in order to know if their behavior has changed."
The demand for behavioral health care is at its highest across the country, Showalter said.
“If we believe that someone is potentially suicidal, being direct about suicidal ideation is vital,” he said. “Ask directly, ‘Are you having thoughts of killing yourself?’ This is a difficult but essential question. My experience has been that people are honest when asked, and generally, experience the question itself as an expression of caring.”
For more information, the Military & Family Life Counseling program under Military OneSource, the Religious Support Office or your primary care manager can help guide you to a licensed therapist who can help. Your primary care provider can also assess the need for medication and/or provide referral within your network. For immediate help, contact the National Suicide and Crisis hotline at 988.
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