Veterans Suicide has Caused
More US Casualties Than Wars in Iraq and Afghanistan
By Bruce Newman
TURLOCK -- On a day like any
other in America, former Navy Master at Arms Daniel Faddis, 28, put
a Sig Sauer 9 millimeter pistol to his head and shot himself.
Faddis took his own life on June 20, 2012 -- adding
his name to the somber roll call of 22 U.S. military veterans who
die by suicide every day, more than double the civilian rate. Since
that day, some 27,258 of those we honor for their service on this
Veterans Day have died by their own hand.
One of the most tragic problems afflicting those who served their
country is the specter of suicide, often the fallout of
post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD). After more than a year of
intense lobbying by veterans groups, Congress this year passed the
Clay Hunt Suicide Prevention for American Veterans Act, named for a
Marine veteran who took his own life even after working as an
advocate for suicide prevention. The law is designed to reduce
military and veteran suicides, and improve access to quality mental
But veterans experts estimate that 17 of the 22
daily suicides involve vets not enrolled in the VA's health care
system, suggesting more research -- and far greater funding -- will
be necessary to get a handle on the problem.
Faddis and his fiancee were scheduled to be married
in Fremont in a month when he shot himself in their Newark
apartment. The gun had not been aimed directly at his temple, giving
his mother some small hope that her only son didn't actually intend
to kill himself. But Faddis was an NRA safety instructor, one of
many jobs he had dabbled in since leaving the Navy.
"He taught people you don't point your gun at
anything you're not going to shoot," says his father, Stan Faddis,
who was a Santa Clara County probation officer for 27 years. He
moved the family to Turlock after retiring in 2011, and Daniel --
who was still struggling to find himself after the Navy forced him
out in 2006 for being overweight -- lived with his parents while
shuffling through jobs as an armored car driver, a bounty hunter,
and finally, security guard at a department store in the Stanford
With U.S. combat operations winding down in
Afghanistan and Iraq, the suicide rate among ex-military members has
risen from 18 a day in 2010, although studies undertaken by the
Department of Veterans Affairs have failed to pinpoint a direct
cause. Only about a third of all vets use the VA for health care,
which leaves a wide swath of people who once wore the uniform
outside the reach of the military's data gathering.
"Common sense would have us expect a correlation
between number of deployments and combat with suicide risk," says
Fred MacRae, lead suicide prevention coordinator at the VA hospital
in Palo Alto. But recent research suggests that's not necessarily
Not even the horrors of battle are a proven cause.
"More and more," says Jackie Maffucci, research director for Iraq
and Afghanistan Veterans of America (IAVA), "the data are suggesting
that exposure to combat is not one of the high-risk factors."
Daniel Faddis never experienced combat. He served
in the military police, frequently standing guard at the gate
outside a naval installation in Bahrain. "When 9/11 came, he wanted
to serve his country and right all the wrongs of the world," says
Stan Faddis. But while he was in the Persian Gulf, he developed a
drinking problem that he never overcame.
His parents believe it was the alcohol that was
responsible for Daniel's weight, which had ballooned to nearly 300
pounds at the time of his death. That, and misdemeanor arrests for
driving drunk and carrying a loaded weapon, dashed his hopes of
continuing his military work as a civilian. "I think it finally
dawned on him he wasn't ever going to be a cop," says his dad, "and
it was the worst letdown in the world to him."
Almost everyone who has served in the military now
knows someone -- often several someones -- who suffers from
disabling depression. Some end their own lives. Members of the IAVA
were asked in a survey last year if they knew at least one post-9/11
veteran who had attempted suicide, and 47 percent answered yes.
Another 40 percent knew at least one veteran who had died by
"And 31 percent indicated they had thought about
taking their own life since joining the military," says Maffucci.
"Those are startling numbers."
Daniel Faddis told another veteran in his family
that he felt he had let down his military buddies when he was booted
out. "He carried around a lot of guilt about that," Stan Faddis
says. "Some guys he knew ended up dying in combat, and he felt bad
he wasn't there to save them, or to die with them."
The current wait time for a mental health
appointment at the VA in Palo Alto is about 12 days, and in a recent
national study by the Government Accountability Office it averaged
26 days. Still, that's considerably shorter than when the country
went on a wartime footing following 9/11. "In 2001, your chances of
dying by suicide were greater if you got your care in the VA system
than if you got it elsewhere," MacRae acknowledges.
The new federal legislation is creating a program
to help the VA recruit psychiatrists by assisting with their tuition
payments, and it also requires an annual evaluation of VA mental
health and suicide-prevention programs.
Faddis told his parents in 2012 that he called the
VA seeking help, and was told he could not be seen for a year or
more. "For him to finally say he was going to get help," says Linda
Faddis, "and then be turned down, he was shocked by that." MacRae
doesn't know whether Daniel called, or merely told his family that
he did, but says that not even in the VA's bad old days three years
ago would anyone with a mental health problem be kept waiting a
year. "One would assume there was a misunderstanding," he says.
Daniel Faddis was one semester from a college
degree in criminal justice, and one month from a huge church wedding
when he died. His mother blames the military culture he was exposed
to for changing him.
"These kids go over and experience a life that's
nothing like they've ever known," she says. "When they come out, to
my knowledge there is no debriefing where they say, 'OK, we're
taking you out of this and putting you back in society.' The
military is more of a machine. It gets you in, it uses you, and it
spits you out."
But Daniel's dad, who wasn't eager to see his son
risk his life by enlisting during wartime, suggests his service may
have also been the high point of Daniel's life. "He loved the
camaraderie," says Stan Faddis. "I think his separation from the
military is what caused him his greatest grief. He talked a few
times about getting in shape and going back in. I'm proud of him,
and don't regret his service at all. I just regret that he didn't
get the help he obviously needed, when he needed it."