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SYRACUSE, N.Y.--July saw a record number of suicides in the Army and among recent veterans. I was nearly one of them.
I suffer from both traumatic brain injury and post-traumatic stress disorder, the two most common conditions of suicidal veterans. Sometimes, life becomes overwhelming.
This summer, as has happened often before, I experienced severe depression, which leads to isolation. Then, when I was feeling most hopeless, I also started feeling tremendously reckless. I found myself feeling aggressive and impulsive, feelings that fuel erratic behavior.
With each passing week of the summer, as I pushed yet another friend or family member away, it became easier to envision suicide as an option to break this insufferable tension.
From my service in Iraq, I carry memories of which I know I will never be entirely free. In 2007, I was a platoon leader, guiding my soldiers through dangerous streets during battle in Baqubah, a city that was spiraling out of control with insurgency.
In defense of my soldiers, I called in a mortar strike on a house where we believed enemy fighters were holed up. After the strike, we learned that there was an innocent family with young children huddled inside.
Images of that family still haunt me today, and I haven't been the same since the strike that killed them. My sense of guilt is sometimes overwhelming.
The internal tension I feel goes beyond surviving firefights and mortar rounds. It goes much deeper than being startled by loud noises and fearing large crowds, though these things are part of my life too.
The bigger crisis facing me, along with a lot of other veterans, is one of identity. Who am I, after returning home from war?
Military service is not simply a job; it is an identity. Servicemen and -women give their entire selves to the cause because lives depend on it. With each deployment, each combat experience, that identity becomes more entrenched. We survive near-death experiences and make the strongest of bonds, all as soldiers. And then, on returning to civilian life, that identity is ripped away.