Editor’s note: We are pleased to announce that retired Green Beret Greg Walker has joined the Soldier of Fortune team as Contributing Editor for Veterans Issues. Today begins Greg’s column, VetCare 2023.
VetCare 2023 by Greg Walker, U.S. Army Special Forces (ret)
I was blessed to spend 10 years working with our most seriously wounded, injured, or made ill
Special Operations soldiers, sailors, Marines, and Airmen as a DoD trained and certified Warrior
Care case manger and advocate. This at the height of the Global War on Terrorism, or GWOT.
Along the way I was further educated by equally as skilled, and many more so, advocates,
clinicians, hospital staffs, military commanders, and family members of those in care and
treatment. Specifically, those engaged in both suicide intervention and prevention, a topic I am
aware of, being a survivor of a suicide in my own family many, many years ago now.
There are no memorial walls for those active duty, reservists, National Guard, and Veterans who
take their own lives. The stigma of suicide ensures silence, shame, and secrecy. Unfortunately,
this stigma continues to old sway despite significant changes in our cultural branding of military
service related suicide.
Today, we know far more about what brings our loved ones to the precipice of death by their own hands. And we are, we must, learn how to more properly care for those left behind. This in order to break the chain that suicide in a family – and military units are a family, as so many of us know – can create unless actively addressed.
Two years ago MSG (ret) Leroy Petry, Medal of Honor recipient and today the President of the
Congressional Medal of Honor Society, shared with me the far more accurate number of those
service members and veterans lost to suicide was 33 a day. Petry’s information based, part, on his
work with DoD and the VA, among other agencies and NGOs working this issue. Petry himself
has lost close friends to suicide. It is a heartfelt issue for him as a result.
Suicide is not painless
To kill the most terrible secret that is suicide we must expose its causes and its effects on our
families, our friends, our military, and ourselves on a never-ending basis. We must expose
military service-related suicide to the powerful, healing light of Love, Truth, and Self-Care. We
must band together with like-minded warriors to include our family members to fight the good
fight on behalf of those who are stumbling and reaching a point in their internal suffering where
death seems the only option left.
They are people, not statistics
In January 2017, Oregon National Guardsman and decorated combat medic Will Naugle
disappeared in SE Portland. A month later hikers discovered his remains at the Powell Butte
Nature Park. Naugle, a combat veteran of our war in Afghanistan, had taken his own life. He
had ended his life in the peace and solitude of a state park, his body not found for some time
after he’d shot himself. His sister, Terry, says her brother wasn’t the same once he returned
from Afghanistan after serving with the Oregon National Guard, but they had no idea how badly
he was hurting.”
In April 2017, “Green Beret” Michael Mantenuto, also took his own life after suffering for
years from behavioral health and drug dependency challenges. He, too, sought out a place of
quiet and solitude before ending his life with a Glock 23 in the driver’s seat of his SUV.
Unlike Will Naugle, however, Mantenuto’s unit Command and behavioral health team knew
of his challenges but failed to properly address them.
Leroy Petry and Greg Walker
“There is no shame in asking for help”
At the grassroots level we are indeed our brothers and our sisters’ keepers.
“We have horrifying numbers of suicides from our recent wars,” writes Dr. Edward Tick, founder of Soldier’s Heart. “Yet as bad as the reports are, the suicide rate among veterans is likely much higher.
Many after-conflict deaths result from self-inflicted wounds, accidents, legal or illegal drug
overdoses, or alcoholism – with no messages left behind.”
Family members who kill themselves out of grief for the loss of a loved one to suicide represent
numbers that no one truly has a grasp of to date. “The existence of a report is a step in the right
direction. However, the report raises a lot of questions. We need more information on how this is
tracked and who is included in these counts….We know this is an imperfect science and
incredibly difficult to track. It is clear that future studies and greater detail around the 2018 report
Who can help us?
Of the many organizations and agencies seeking to provide education, opportunities for care and
treatment, and ongoing guidance and direction for those seeking it the following resources are
available, and I have used them.
USSOCOM Warrior Care Program
For those seeking to become a resource in this area there is the ASIST program.
Again, from Dr. Ed Tick: “It is helpful to feel painful emotions but not to end your life.” Reach
out – “Warriors are not meant to spread war’s infection to their society…the warrior’s core
purpose is to preserve and protect society and all that is most precious to it.”
And this includes our warfighters and their families, as they are our greatest treasure.
In memory of retired Navy SEAL Mike Day – a friend, a Brother, and a warrior – RIP, Mike, RIP.
Greg Walker served in El Salvador and Operation Iraqi Freedom. A wounded warrior himself, Walker sought rigorous care and treatment, and in 2009 became a SOCOM care coordinator and advocate. He concluded his career in the behavioral health and substance dependency field in 2018 as a military liaison for two 28-day in-patient military care programs in the Pacific Northwest. Today, Greg lives and writes from his home in Sisters, Oregon, along with his service pup, Tommy.
Greg and Tommy