I feel awful about this encounter we had with a veteran last week. A 30 year old veteran sent a suicide note by e-mail last week to a group of agencies in Cleveland, and NEOCH was on the list. I don't know why we were on the list, and the e-mail went to our spam folder. Two of the individuals on the list called the police and even though the vet had meticulously put the GPS longitude and latitude of his body, the police had a hard time finding him. I do not believe that I had met the young man, but he seemed like an intelligent but troubled person. Why did he pick out NEOCH to send the suicide note and not the Veteran's Administration? He had a city in New York listed as his e-mail address and the beginning of the document looked like religious tracts that we get everyday typically asking to claim lost funds, which made it more likely that the e-mail was sent to spam.
We received a call from the Medical Examiners office on the morning after the suicide asking if we knew the gentleman and had we seen his e-mail. I did not see it and the e-mail had been cleared out of our spam folder. The Medical Examiner reached out to the six groups and two individuals listed in the veteran's e-mail for locating next of kin with a copy of the original e-mail. It seems that the vet had been a foster kid and then went to serve in the military. For the past seven years after he left the military, he had lived on the streets of Cleveland and in various shelters. His body was found in a warehouse in the flats. He sent a Google map with the location of his body and a long explanation for his death. This veteran had been in many different shelters and worked with many service providers but could not find a place in our society. He died in the building that he had been living for the past several months. No electricity and alone near the Cuyahoga River.
He recognized that he had a long term disability and was dealing with severe depression. We did circulate a call for help to all the shelters asking for more information on behalf of the Cuyahoga Medical Examiner's office. I know a couple of agencies came forward with additional information. Despite the millions available to veterans at this time and the dramatic expansion of services since 2006, he could not find the care that he needed. He spoke of working for peace in our society, and living his life on the fringes of society. He seemed like a deep thinker who did not seem to want to raise a fuss about the injustice of his situation. He included a number of prayers and quotes from historical figures, and indicated that he had reached his end.
I grieve that our community could not intervene to find a safe place for this veteran. I am angry that he thought so much, but concluded this was a viable solution to his problems. I have to keep in mind from my personal experience with loved ones who have severe mental illnesses that this is not rational thinking here. I wonder why NEOCH was selected to receive this note. I am overwhelmed by the details in this suicide note and the level of sophistication. I feel horrible that this young veteran was so alone and could not identify any support network. I don't understand much of what he is saying in his note, but I am sure that he would have been good to sit down and have a cup of coffee with. I am confused about what was the trigger here and how we could have done more for this individual. I am concerned that we have others who spend so much time "sleeping on concrete, under bridges and in abandoned buildings" that they see no relief except a grim one.
On this day that we honor veterans, we should see that working together we can prove to the veteran and community that we can move mountains. We also need to see that this is an emergency that we need to move quickly so that those veterans and non-veterans struggling with mental health issues find the specialized help they need. We must remember that each person is different and what works for one person might not be what is best for the young veteran bouncing from one shelter to another. We need to go beyond "Thank you for your service" to "Because of your service, our community will do whatever it takes to help."
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