Conference Helped Families Unite, Cope With Impact of Military Suicide

Lessons We Can Learn From Suicide Survivors

by Sarah Heynen
Defense Centers of Excellence, March 29, 2011

“Death itself is not always a sad ending, but suicide is. Suicide is a tragedy. It ends sadly for everyone,” said W. Scott Gould, deputy secretary of the Department of Veterans Affairs, at an annual conference on suicide prevention sponsored by the Departments of Defense and Veterans Affairs.

It takes amazing courage to speak about losing a loved one to death by suicide. It takes even more courage to share this experience in front of an audience of more than 1,000 service members, veterans, clinicians and community leaders. A panel of five brave suicide survivors did just that with the hope that their stories of loss would help others and benefit suicide prevention programs.

The panelists included Army Col. Robert McLaughlin, garrison commander at Fort Carson, Colo., and childhood friend of a service member who took his own life. McLaughlin detailed the personal and professional impact the loss of his friend had on him. Also, Kimberli Walker, who lost her husband, Army Capt. Shawn Walker in 2009; Robert Bagosy, who lost his son, Marine Sgt. Thomas Bagosy at Camp Lejeune, N.C. last year; and Carolyn Colley, whose brother, Army Spc. Stephen Colley died in 2007 at Fort Hood, Texas, all shared their stories.

Marine Corps Maj. John Ruocco, his wife, Kim, and children, Joey and Billy, in November 2004. John flew more than 70 combat missions in Iraq as a Cobra helicopter pilot. He took his own life Feb. 7, 2005 after a long battle with depression. Kim has devoted herself to suicide prevention and assisting survivors.


Kim Ruocco of the Tragedy Assistance Program for Survivors (TAPS) facilitated the panel and stressed how families can help one another.
“We have 2,000 suicide survivors in our [TAPS] data bank. Each story is different, but each story is a lesson,” said Ruocco. “The stories of our husbands, sons, daughters…will be used to save someone else’s life.”

Ruocco lost her husband Marine Maj. John Ruocco six years ago and now speaks to various audiences. Read more about Ruocco’s story in the Boston Herald article, “Military Suicides Personal for Widow.”
The lives of families, friends and colleagues coping with a loss of a loved one by suicide are forever changed. They will question why and will search for answers. No story will be alike or fully understood, but the departments recognize that people affected by suicide have valuable stories to share, and they are stories that we can learn from.

Several conference breakout sessions also stressed the need for postvention for suicide survivors – anyone who has lost someone to suicide. Postvention, an intervention after a suicide occurs, provides immediate psychological or spiritual support which can help survivors by lessening distress, restoring coping abilities, bringing hope, and rebuilding normalcy. Check out the presentation by Navy Capt. Donald P. Troast from the session, “Suicide Postvention” for more information.

For resources on suicide prevention and postvention, please visit suicide prevention on the DCoE website. If you are in crisis or know someone who might be, please call the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline at 800-273-TALK; veterans press 1.

Read more about this conference and other presentations:
http://www.dcoe.health.mil/Training/PastConferences.aspx

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