Suicide Awareness

  • Published
  • By David Cunningham, DPH, LCSW, BCD
  • 163d Attack Wing

Suicide is not a singular event. It has a far reaching impact on those closest, too.

Master Sgt. Mario Reyes-Jauregui, a former Marine Infantryman now assigned to the 452nd Security Forces Squadron at March Air Reserve Base, Calif., agreed to share his family’s experience.

Reyes-Jauregui's brother, Corp. Elias Reyes Jr., joined the Marine Corps at age 17 out of a sense of duty. He served as an Infantry Assaultman in both Fallujah, Iraq, and Helmand Province, Afghanistan,  from 2004 to 2008. He completed three combat tours prior to leaving the service to attend UCLA, where he earned his bachelor’s degree in philosophy in 2012. He was very mature and driven for his age—and very intelligent. He scored a 99 on his Armed Serves Vocational Aptitude, prompting the recruiters to ask him if he was sure he wanted to join as an enlisted man. The recruiters thought he was meant for an officer’s billet with an Intelligence Military Occupational Specialty, as opposed to being infantry enlisted. But "Junior" was firm in his decision and off he went.

On April 12, 2014, after struggling with mental and emotional pain over the loss of his Marine brothers-in-arms for years, a failed relationship, and a lack of gainful employment, Reyes took his own life. This came as a surprise to all who knew him, even his family and Marine brothers, because he was one of the most emotionally sound Marines, and gave no indication or clue of his intentions or struggles.

The struggle with veterans suicide continues. The average number is thought to be about 22 suicides per day among the veteran population, and that doesn’t include those still active in the military. These statistics have led to multiple efforts among active duty and the veteran population to increase awareness and outreach with a variety of programs, charities, and challenges.

David Cunningham: How old was Elias?

Mario Reyes-Jauregui: Elias Reyes Jr. was 27 years old.”

D.C.: What kind of struggles was he having, and for how long?

MR-J: My brother was very giving and generous. He would always lend a helping hand no matter what was going on in his life. He was pure of heart and was not comfortable with where our nation as a whole was heading. Essentially, he was disappointed with humanity and the way we treat each other. He couldn't understand why we couldn't just love and help one another.

After college, his hope was to land a good job and settle down with his girlfriend. However, reality set in. Things didn't work out with his girlfriend, jobs weren't calling him, and the Veteran Administration's (V.A.) lack of effort did not help matters either. So he was quickly losing hope because he felt a calling to serve his country, but his country did not want to deal with the after-effects of sending its best and brightest to the worst places on earth. He felt let down…

D.C.: How did he hide it/ cope?

MR-J: He told everyone he was doing fine, and also did not want to talk about anything that had happened because it only reminded him about the terrors that he and his fellow Marines endured. He had seen his brother Marines burned to death, blown up, shot, etc. He helped carry what was left of some of his Marines, as well as his squad leader to the MedEvac after a suicide bomber took the life of a well respected and loved Marine. A devout Catholic, he prayed over his Marines that were hurt or killed. As a young adult and service member, that's a lot to deal with, no matter how mature he may have been for his age. He took up smoking and started to drink in an effort to ‘self-medicate’ his problems away.  I did not agree with it, but he was his own person and he felt he could handle his problems on his own. In essence, he did not cope well.

D.C.: Did he ever seek any help?

MR-J: Yes, he initially went to the Los Angeles V.A. and then the Oakland V.A. once he moved closer to U.C. Berkeley, where he hoped to attend and continue his education in medicine where he could better help Veterans suffering from the same issues. However, Oakland V.A. took too long to get appointments, not to mention the lack of effort of the V.A. medical staff, who he felt didn't care and only prescribed medications for symptoms of Post Traumatic Stress, rather than treating the root cause of the problem. He once waited to be seen for eight hours, only to be told that he wouldn't be able to be seen for another four to six weeks.

He did visit local VFW's and spoke to elderly Veterans from WWII, Korea, Vietnam, as well as Iraq/Afghanistan Veteran's and asked them how they coped with their issues/nightmares, etc. He found momentary comfort in knowing he was not alone in his struggle,” recounts Reyes-Jauregui. “Going to college only distracted his mind momentarily. Multiple attempts to gain financial assistance from the V.A. to continue in the medical field at Berkeley were denied.

D.C.: What impact did it have on your family/ friends?

MR-J: To say that it is heart-breaking would be an understatement. He was so loved and respected by everyone. His decision to take his life must have weighed heavily on his heart and mind because although he wanted to re-enlist in the Marine Corps again, he also did not want to put our family through more stressful deployments where he could potentially be killed. He loved his fellow Marines.

Some of our family have grown closer, however, some of our family do not speak to each other after this tragedy, as some of us have blamed each other for various reasons.

D.C.: What would you say to him now?

MR-J: We love you with all our hearts. I wish you would have said something for us to help you. I wish you had not secluded yourself away from the family and told everyone you were fine when we asked how you were doing. I wish all of us had done more to help you. But I also wish you had not gotten upset with us when all we wanted to do was help. I am sorry for not putting forth more effort to help you and not caring whether you got upset or not to get through whatever turmoil you were going through. As a respected Marine warrior, I wish you would've been strong and brave enough to ask for help from any one of us… Your suicide solved nothing… I am heart-broken and actually upset about it. I love you with all my heart, but I wish you would've tried other healthier methods to cope with tragedy. And also passed what worked for you to everyone else that is going through the same or similar circumstances. I wish you would've left a note…We are left wondering, assuming, laying blame, hurting… There's an emptiness in our heart that will never be filled. Mom is forever traumatized and doesn't even listen to music because it's too happy, and she isn't.

Suicide does not solve anything. You may end your physical and/or emotional pain, but now you've transferred that heart-breaking pain to your family and friends. These emotionally damaged individuals are often in a mindset that they are alone in dealing with their pain. They are not in a position mentally or emotionally in order to grasp the impact their actions will have on their family, friends and co-workers. Suicide is an act of an individual, but it has wide spread ramifications.

As a behavioral health provider, I’ve have heard multiple times over the years, “I didn’t do anything because I didn’t want them to be mad at me.” In response, as a forewarning, I would ask, “Would you rather have him/her alive, and mad at you, or dead and never get to see them again?” In my professional opinion, it’s not much of a choice.

Suicide awareness training for active military, the Veterans Crisis Hotline, and the Mission 22 push up challenge are only some of the outreach measures currently being used.

If you, or someone you know, is considering suicide, please reach out to someone for assistance. It can be a family member, friend, Wingman, Chaplain, Director of Psychological Health or a crisis hotline. The life you save is not only theirs, but also helps avoid the catastrophic impact the loss of life has on those close, or around them. 

Veterans’ Crisis Hotline (800) 273-8255.

Military One Source, (800) 342-9647.

For Emergencies, dial 911.