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Military Families Touched By Suicide Speak Out On Memorial Day

Memorial Day offers all Americans a chance to grieve, honor, and recognize troops who died fighting. In many ways, the rituals — like playing "taps" and offering wreaths — are straightforward and comforting. But some military family members in Houston still struggle to find closure, because their loved ones died of suicide.



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Boy Scouts handed out bottles of water as hot winds whipped across the grounds of the Houston National Cemetery.

Lt. Governor David Dewhurst addressed a crowd of hundreds:

“For so many Americans, Memorial Day is a time to be with family and friends, barbecue and baseball games. But we’re all here because we know that we must never forget the solemn purpose for this sacred day.”

Afterwards, Judi Swenson talked about her son, Army Specialist David Swenson, Jr.

He took his life in 2005 after returning from Iraq.

Swenson says sometimes the Memorial Day rhetoric can make her feel left out:

“It’s combat deaths, combat deaths, combat deaths. What they’re remembering and what they’re acknowledging.”

Laura Wolf also lost her son, after his tour of duty in Tikrit.

“Aaron died in 2008 from what is well-known as “invisible wounds of war.” And actually it’s a nice way of saying he died by suicide. He had severe PTSD and traumatic brain injury and he died at Brook Army Medical Center at Fort Sam Houston in San Antonio.”

Wolf says the Army is getting better at addressing mental health, but it came too late for her son:

“He didn’t talk much because he said ‘Mom, I was at war’ and he said ‘War is-’ and then he gave an expletive word. But I knew he had problems.”

There are no reliable statistics on how many veterans commit suicide.

But Army studies show the rate has risen to record levels among the enlisted.

Swenson says she thought she could stop worrying when her son made it back from Iraq.

“We were so excited that he made it home and we could sleep. And within the following year, he took his own life. We thought he was safe, but he wasn’t. He reached out for help, but it wasn’t there.”

Swenson says she’s also hurt because local ceremonies in Atascocita, where they live, fail to include her son.

“And they have a major placard that they bring to these ceremonies of the military who have given their lives. And Davy’s not included, he’s not acknowledged, he’s not on the placard. His name’s not read, the bell’s not rung for him, because his wounds were inside.”

Swenson, and her husband, and Davy’s surviving child, 13-year-old Timothy, all volunteer for suicide prevention and awareness, particularly among military families.

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