War Trauma Drives A Veteran Toward Suicide: 'I Wasn't The Same Guy, And I Didn't Understand It'
A story Mike McMichael's grandma told him
when he was young probably saved his life. But that was years after
he had grown up to be a National Guard infantry officer, been
knocked unconscious by an IED blast in Iraq and come home after a
long combat tour with brain injuries the Army never
It was after worsening tremors and memory lapses forced him to
quit the military, and after blackouts and violent rages cost him
his civilian job and nearly drove away his wife, Jackie, and their
four young children.
It was when he felt he'd failed as a warrior and failed as a
dependable wage earner and failed as a husband and dad. When
suicide began to look like the only option left, it was then that
he remembered the story his grandma had told him. She'd been a
nurse, and the story went like this.
Many years before, a man in his prime unaccountably had fallen on
such hard times that he came to believe suicide was the only way to
end his pain. He put a shotgun under his chin and pulled the
trigger. The blast blew off his face and part of his brain, but it
left him alive and breathing.
For the rest of his life he sat in a chair, unable to speak, alone
with his thoughts. Inside, the young Mike imagined, he was silently
"How did things get so bad in his life that he thought that was
the answer?" Mike wondered. In Mike's own darkest moments, when
thoughts of suicide were banging up against his zest for life and
love for his family, the story weighed on him. He hesitated,
perfecting the suicide plan but putting off the decision. "I didn't
want to be that guy," he explained. "That's what drug it
So far, at least, Mike, now 39, has triumphed over his demons. But
it's been close. He is a stocky, well-muscled man whose commanding
presence, friendly, backwoods demeanor and liquid Carolina diction
camouflage a world of hurt and struggle.
For too long, Mike got no help. For too long, professional help
was out of reach. For too long, he resisted what help there
In that, he is like too many others, military men and women who
remain at risk of suicide.
Invisible casualties, they are combat troops afflicted with brain
injury and war trauma. They are victims of military sexual trauma.
Aging veterans living alone with deteriorating bodies and minds.
The physically wounded who've become addicted to painkillers, and
people whose lives are temporarily derailed by the death of a loved
one, illness, job loss, homelessness or the breakup of a close
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