Soldier’s Suicide – A Statement or Call to Action?

Upside-down Flag = signal of dire distress in instances of extreme danger to life or property

This past weekend Jesse C. Huff walked up to the Veterans Affairs Department’s Medical Center on Friday morning wearing U.S. Army fatigues and battling pain from his Iraq war wounds and a recent bout with depression.

The 27-year-old Dayton man had entered the center’s emergency room about 1 a.m. Friday and requested some sort of treatment. But Huff did not get that treatment, police said, and about 5:45 a.m. he reappeared at the center’s entrance, put a military-style rifle to his head and twice pulled the trigger.

There has been speculation that he killed himself to make a statement.

However, the oldest brother of the Iraq war veteran who committed suicide at the Dayton VA Medical Center Friday said he is satisfied with the care Jesse Huff received hours before his death.

Charles Huff, 37, of Dayton — a nurse at the VA and a staff sergeant in the Army Reserve — said Monday, April 19, that he and his father met with Dayton VA Director Guy Richardson on Sunday to review his brother’s medical records, specifically focusing on the events of his last visit to the emergency room.

Jesse was not denied care,” Charles Huff said. “In fact, I am impressed with the actions of the medical staff that evening. Without going into detail, to protect Jesse’s privacy, I can say as a fellow Iraq war veteran, as a medical professional and as his brother, I am in agreement with the decisions made by the hospital staff during Jesse’s last visit to the ER.”


  • Why are we hearing or reading about higher incidences of suicide or self-hurting acts, in particular by returning veterans from the two wars (Iraq & Afghanistan)?
  • Is there something about the Training prior to deployment?
  • Is there something about the type of injury our veterans have faced?
  • Is there something about the treatment that may be contributing to this?
  • What can we do to prevent tragedies like this, especially for our brave men and women who wear America’s uniform, who sacrifice time away from family with multiple deployments, who come back with great physical injuries, who put their futures and their lives at risk for us?

And sadly and tragically many do pay the ultimate sacrifice in the battlefield and come home in a body bag; while others are still coping with the pain and physical scars from their combat trauma; and while others carry the pain and unseen injuries from the battlefield to the homeland.


1.   Predisposition

There might already be a certain predisposition to certain behavioral issues as in the rest of the population that get compounded and worsened from the trauma of combat.

2.  Incidences of Suicide

Incidences of military suicide are record at highs, and are way above the national average.  Of the estimated 1.9 million veterans that have served in Iraq and Afghanistan , about 20%  (about 380,000) are expected to suffer from TBI (Traumatic Brain Injury) & PTSD (Post Traumatic Stress Disorder).  Unless TBI or PTSD is diagnosed, and properly treated, and unless our current and returning veterans get the proper treatment (for their physical injuries and pain, and the proper and timely mental healthcare, and are helped with reintegration (school; work; careers) to minimize the stressors that may worsen the effects of TBI or PTSD, we may continue to see suicides increase dramatically…or we can work to prevent or reduce them.

3.  Type of Injury

Head Trauma & Serious Injury”   Traumatic Brain Injury or TBI has been called the “signature wound” of the OEF (Operation Enduring Freedom-Afghanistan) and OIF (Operation Iraqui Freedom) conflicts.  Other kinds of serious injuries also create the need for emotional readjustment in returning Veterans


4. What to Look For

VA: Suicide Prevention

VA:  Mental Health FAQ

5. Veterans Courts

Demand greater support for greater expansion of Veterans Courts.  Veterans Court helps handle “infractions” by Veterans in a manner that decriminalizes their actions if it can be proven these are as a result of their TBI or PTSD.
Since Veterans may at times turn to negative coping mechanisms, i.e. alcohol etc. and it can have negative consequences, then the Veterans Court can more appropriately deal with more proper treatment or coping mechanisms to assist in the recovery.

Orange County has a Veterans Court.  To Learn more see the Powerpoint Presentation at “August 15th, 2009  – “Veterans Court Presentation by Ms. Laura Morfin”

6. Veterans Health Care Gap (April 19, 2010)

A new report from the Institute of Medicine says U.S. government agencies need to do more to meet the physical and mental health needs of military personnel returning home from tours in Iraq or Afghanistan. The report recommends the government should (1) fund research on the readjustment needs of veterans; (2) prepare for the long-term needs of returning veterans with multiple traumas and traumatic brain injuries; (3) examine whether the mental health needs of female veterans are being met; and (4) consider sending military personnel to some location to readjust to a non-combat environment before returning home to their families.

See the whole Report

7.  Training – Inconsistent training.

An April 2010 report from the GAO (Government Accountability Office – the government’s auditor) found that military readiness and deployment training was lacking.  If our men and women in uniform are not receiving the proper training, then they will either face more casualties (deaths, or physical injuries), may increase the risk of not accomplishing the mission, or they will be less able to cope with the traumas of combat, which will then worsen their symptoms from TBI or PTSD.

See the one page summary of GAO Inconsistent Training Findings

8. TreatmentAre anti-depressants causing greater incidences of suicide?

Although not conclusive, there are strong indications that certain anti-depressants, that many veterans receive as part of their treatment, may increase the risk of suicide or be the cause of it.

“Families and caregivers of patients being treated with antidepressants for major depressive disorder or other indications, both psychiatric and nonpsychiatric, should be alerted about the need to monitor patients for the emergence of agitation, irritability, unusual changes in behavior, and the other symptoms described above, as well as the emergence of suicidality, and to report such symptoms immediately to health care providers. Such monitoring should include daily observation by families and caregivers.

In a new study, a team of researchers led by Elisabetta Patorno, MD, a research fellow at Brigham and Women’s Hospital, in Boston, looked at prescription data for 13 different anticonvulsants from health plans across the country and compared them to federal death records and data on emergency room visits and hospitalizations.

9.    Veterans Coalition of OC

We must join our efforts to serve our veterans as they have served us.

You can join our Veterans Coalition of Orange County.

Finally, you can demand that all of your representatives i.e. as US Rep Loretta Sanchez (Armed Services Committee) ensures Training issues are addressed (GAO report), and that the needs identified in the Veterans Healthcare Gap Report are addressed, and that many others issues are addressed.

And whatever your faith, we can send the families our heartfelt sympathies and a prayer as we honor and remember the service of our fallen both in the battlefield and in the homeland.

Also, irregardless of our individual opinions about wars, our troops put themselves in harm’s way for us…so I think we should also observe a moment of silence in our daily lives to reflect on their service and their time away from home…away from their families…and we can also help them heal, because as the Commander of a veterans organization I know that our veterans find HEALING IN UNITY!!!

Francisco “Paco” Barragan CPA, CIA

Commander, UMAVA

United Mexican-American Veterans Association

About Francisco Barragan