COLUMBIA, S.C. (WIS) -The inaugural Steps & Strides Against Veteran Suicide Walk is happening Monday morning. It will begin at the Columbia Vet Center on Richland Street.
According to the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs, veteran suicides are a national concern. Between 2008 and 2016, there were more than 6,000 veteran suicides each year. WIS-TV spoke with one Midlands veteran who was very close to becoming a part of that statistic and he now wants to help prevent more veteran suicides.
Dennis Norman of York County says he joined the Army right out of high school in 1980 and served for 10 years. He says it wasn’t until 2005 that he began to fall into a state of depression.
The VA describes some of the warning signs that a veteran may be considering such as suicide, feelings of hopelessness, extreme mood swings, increased alcohol or drug use and withdrawing from family or friends. Norman told WIS-TV that those emotions are not uncommon among veterans.
“There’s a whole lot of different stressors that you face when you’re returning back to civilian life. You’re used to that camaraderie. You’re used to the relationship – for someone having your back. When you get out of the service, you don’t have that anymore and you’re facing the world with all your problems and there’s no one there to help you. You feel all alone,” Norman said.
The disabled Army vet says as he grappled with depression, his relationships with family and friends were suffering. Once he was served divorce papers by his wife on Valentine’s Day, Norman says he felt he’d reached his tipping point. He turned to a 9 mm pistol he says he’d bought for his wife to keep her safe.
“I put it in my mouth and pulled the trigger, but it misfired. God had another plan. You don’t realize the hole that you’re going to leave in world. You never know what God’s mission is for you – what you should’ve accomplished by living if you try to take your own life. You don’t realize the friendships that you’re going to lose, the family that you’re going to lose,” Norman said.
He also says he didn’t realize the friends he would gain after his suicide attempt. Not long after, he was awarded with a quilt through the non-profit, Quilts of Valor, which provides handmade quilts to our service members.
Norman says he was so touched to be shown such compassion by people he didn’t even know, and that he now realizes people do in fact care about his time in service.
He hopes to spread that same message to people who may be feeling that same sense of hopelessness Norman says he once felt.
“I just want to save somebody else’s life, like my life was saved".
Monday’s Steps & Strides Against Veteran Suicide Walk begins at 9:00 AM at the Columbia Vet Center. While Norman is not directly involved with this event, he is encouraging the community to support all efforts that will help raise awareness about this issue affecting so many of our military members and their families.
Learn to recognize these warning signs, provided by the VA:
· Hopelessness; feeling like there’s no way out
· Anxiety, agitation, sleeplessness, or mood swings
· Feeling like there is no reason to live
· Rage or anger
· Engaging in risky activities without thinking
· Increasing alcohol or drug misuse
· Withdrawing from family and friends
The presence of the following signs requires immediate attention:
· Thinking about hurting or killing yourself
· Looking for ways to kill yourself
· Talking about death, dying, or suicide
· Self-destructive behavior such as drug misuse, carelessly handling weapons, etc