Veterans, First Responders, and Suicide

Red USCGC Northwind hat
Jeremy Leclair served on the USCGC Northwind before becoming a Corrections Officer, then firefighter.

“They told me it couldn’t be PTS [post-traumatic stress disorder] because I hadn’t been in combat,” Jeremy Leclair says. The Facebook messenger connection is crackly, but his words carve themselves into my brain. Post-traumatic stress disorder is a major problem with military veterans, first responders, and survivors of trauma. Jeremy Leclair, a former corrections officer, fire chief and veteran of the United States Coast Guard is on a mission to educate people about the impact of post-traumatic stress disorder. 

Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder

    “I began having nightmares. Most of them were… vehicular suicide nightmares. I would have these dreams of the logs coming off the logging truck and take me out… I began not getting a lot of sleep. I also began having a lot of migraine headaches. I woke up one morning and I was spitting out pieces of filling,” Leclair tells me. He talks about the pressure caused by a poor command climate and the things he saw on calls. “I went from 41 full-time employees down to 29 before I was allowed to post a job-for-hire,” he says. 

    The nightmares started getting worse. One night, it all came to a head. I dreamt I went to work and shot myself with my Smith & Wesson… the dream was so real I could feel the texture of the grip.”

    “I went up and I got changed. I used to carry from being a corrections officer… I kept the bullets in the top drawer… I took it to work with me…”

    “I gave my bullets to my friend Jim… Jim recognized what was going on for what it was.. I wound up spending a week in… Riverstone [Safe Haven, a facility for people who suffer from suicidal ideation].”

The Statistics of Suicide

    Leclair isn’t alone in his story. The Department of Veteran Affairs reported that 17.8 veterans died by suicide in 2018. SAMHSA estimated that 30% of first responders will develop mental health problems, and that 37% of EMS personnel will consider suicide. It’s also something servicemembers and first responders, while given training on, prefer not to talk about. Leclair had the courage to break the stigma. “Suicide Prevention Month was September,” Leclair says. “This is bullshit, this isn’t how it happens… I wrote a manuscript… went around to the units on base… it was draining, very very draining… what wound up happening, what made it all worth it, was the director of psychological health told me that within two weeks of my talk she’d see a spike of people coming in.”

There Is Help

    If you are a veteran or first responder, there are resources available for help. Consider calling 1-800-273-TALK and pressing “1” for the Veterans Crisis Line. First responders can text ‘FRONTLINE’ to 741-741.

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