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We can do better for our veterans

On this Veterans Day, we encourage those who care about our nation’s soldiers to read the tragic accounts in the Sunday Telegraph about a pair of New Hampshire veterans who returned home from overseas tours of duty and took their own lives.

Army Spc. Christopher Journeau, of Stratham, received unit commendations for a nine-month tour of duty in Iraq. Nobody knows, exactly, if it was the comrades he saw killed or the dismembered bodies of soldiers and civilians that changed him, but his family and friends agree that the 23-year-old Journeau wasn’t the same guy when he returned home. The young man they knew before he joined the Army was not considered a likely candidate to take his own life, as Journeau did in June 2010.

Marine Charles Edward “Eddie” Dane of Manchester served six tours of duty, two in Kosovo, three in Iraq and one in Afghanistan. He was 37 when he killed himself in 2009.

Their ages, branches of service and some of their circumstances were different, but they had many things in common, too.

The families of both say there were warning signs that their sons were struggling with life in the states – signs the men were struggling with post-traumatic stress disorder.

The Veterans Administration website defines PTSD as a “a mental health problem that can occur after someone goes through a traumatic event like war, assault, or disaster.”

The families of the men said both veterans were isolated, withdrawn, angered quickly and seemingly at random, and had trouble sleeping.

Neither man talked about the things they saw during their battlefield tours, which is another red flag.

“Everybody thought if he wasn’t talking about it, he’s all right,” Journeau’s mother, Jo-Ann Clark, told the Portsmouth Herald.

When Dane’s mother, Charlen McLean, sees veterans she doesn’t know in restaurants, she thanks them for their service and gives them a friendly reminder: “I tell them if they feel bad, to make sure they tell someone.”

Both Journeau and Dane turned to alcohol to dull their pain and each had been drinking in the hours leading up to their deaths.

PTSD is not limited to those who have witnessed the horrors of war, but it is prevalent enough among soldiers that the Veterans Administration has a center dedicated to getting veterans help with the problem. The PTSD website – which can be found at www.ptsd.va.gov – offers information and help geared for soldiers and their families. We encourage anyone who knows someone who has been traumatized – be it in the military or civilian life – to visit the site and familiarize themselves with the illness.

Because, while there are outward signs that loved ones might be able to pick up on, those are but symptoms of what goes inside those who have endured trauma: An overwhelming feeling of not being able to cope, which has led far too many soldiers and veterans to take their own lives.

Suicide is enough of a problem among veterans that the Veterans Administration stepped up its efforts to address the problem. It seems to be helping, but we need to do more.

For all that we ask of our soldiers, and for all of their heroism, it’s a cruel irony that the most dangerous time for some of them is after they have fulfilled their mission and returned to the safety of the country they love and served.

We need to do doing everything we possibly can to help them make a peaceful – and safe – transition back to civilian life.

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