Clay Hunt seemed to have it all together. The 28 year old veteran of the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan went to Washington, D.C., to speak out for veterans’ rights with IAVA, a veterans’ advocacy group. He also built bikes for a rehabilitation program for injured vets and traveled around the world to provide humanitarian aid. He even appeared in a suicide prevention campaign urging other veterans to seek help. But in March of this year, Clay killed himself with a gunshot to the head.
Shortly after Clay’s death, one of the military spouses on the staff of Blue Star Families forwarded me a blog post that was incredibly disturbing. It was an online suicide note written by Jessica Harp, a 27 year old military spouse who could no longer see a future for herself. The blog began, “If you are reading this, you should know that I am dead. At least I hope I’m dead. It would be awful to fail at your own suicide.”
The stories of Clay and Jessica are, unfortunately, not unusual. According to a Department of Defense report released last year, more than 1,100 members of our military committed suicide between 2005 and 2009. That is an average of 1 suicide every 36 hours. The numbers aren’t going down.
The Department of Defense doesn’t track the suicide attempts of military children and spouses but we know that the suicide rate among our soldiers is at a record high. Knowing that the suicide numbers are not the full story, Blue Star Families began a campaign to raise awareness, not just among our service members and veterans, but among our military families and spouses. As Americans, we have an moral obligation and responsibility to take care of the men and women who volunteer to sacrifice for our country.
With our suicide prevention and wellness campaign, BSF is working to help military families become more resilient and to realize that they have somewhere to turn for confidential help. Blue Star Families has kicked off this suicide prevention and awareness campaign with a series of public service announcements (PSAs) featuring Hollywood stars. We are currently in the process of filming a second set of PSAs with the Nashville Film Institute and the country music industry. Our hope is that this campaign will help military families realize that asking for help when you need it is a sign of strength, not weakness.
Blue Star Families will also be working with local communities, local government officials and Chambers of Commerce to build awareness and resilience among our military families. To find out more about our suicide prevention and wellness program and resources, visit http://bluestarfam.org/preventsuicide. Your donation can help us save lives.
Mark D. Smith is the Executive Director of Blue Star Families and an Army Veteran. He lives in Croton on Hudson, New York with his family.