Community Blog

Natick’s Veteran Services Officer Talks About Veteran Suicide Awareness and Prevention

By Denise Roskamp

Paul Carew is the Veteran Services Officer in Natick, MA. He served as a Marine in Vietnam and has over 16 years of experience educating civilians and the incarcerated population in Massachusetts on suicide prevention and education. We sat down with him recently to learn about his experience around Veteran suicide awareness and prevention, and what motivated his work.

Paul points to a picture on the wall in his office at the Natick Council on Aging taken four years ago. The picture is an inspiration to him and a reminder that there is always another choice. In it, Paul is hugging a retired Army Major who suffered from Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD) and came very close to taking his own life. “He was sitting on his bed rack in Iraq; he had lost four soldiers in his command and just learned that his best friend and first lieutenant was killed in combat. He took his weapon and put it in his mouth with an intention to end his life,” Paul recounted. “Then it hit him, that people are depending on him, in the field and at home.”

Unfortunately for so many other veterans, the hidden wounds of war are too painful, and suicide has become an epidemic to end the pain. Every day 22 veterans take their own lives, well over twice that of other Americans. In speaking about Vietnam alone, Paul explains, “More than five times the number of soldiers that died in Vietnam have taken their own lives.”

“There are so many stressors in the military; combat, exposure to MASH units, trauma.” The trauma can be both physical and psychological, and include PTSD, Military Sexual Trauma (MST), and Traumatic Brain Injury (TBI). Some of the symptoms of these traumas include anger, depression, and anxiety; and can lead to suicide. According to Paul, suicide is rarely a sudden, split-second decision. “It’s a pattern that develops; you don’t wake up, and all of a sudden want to commit suicide.”

“We have to get the person the help needed, point them in the right direction, and make the right phone calls. We must all do what we can to prevent our Veterans from taking their own lives after protecting ours.”

Paul’s advice to Veterans, “What I’ve learned over the years, don’t think about your failures, don’t beat yourself up, don’t blame yourself. And, don’t be silent, don’t be macho; there are more services in Massachusetts than any other state. You always have another choice.”

Contact
Paul Carew, Veteran Service Officer, Town of Natick, MA – 508-647-6545 pcarew@natickma.org

Resources
VA Suicide Hotline 1-800-273-8255 www.veteranscrisisline.net
Defense Suicide Prevention Office www.dspo.mil
Military OneSource 1-800-342-9647
National Center for Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD) 1-802-296-6300 www.ptsd.va.gov
US Department of Veteran Affairs – Mental Health

www.mentalhealth.va.gov
www.maketheconnection.va
www.vetselfcheck.org
International Critical Incident Stress Foundation 1-10-750-9600 www.icisf.org

Suicide Warning Signs

Warning Signs of Acute Risk:

  • Threatening to hurt or kill him or herself, or talking of wanting to hurt or kill him/herself
  • Looking for ways to kill him/herself by seeking access to firearms, available pills, or other means
  • Talking or writing about death, dying or suicide, when these actions are out of the ordinary

Additional Warning Signs:

  • Increased substance (alcohol or drug) use
  • No reason for living; no sense of purpose in life
  • Anxiety, agitation, unable to sleep or sleeping all the time
  • Feeling trapped – like there’s no way out
  • Hopelessness
  • Withdrawal from friends, family and society
  • Rage, uncontrolled anger, seeking revenge
  • Acting reckless or engaging in risky activities, seemingly without thinking
  • Dramatic mood changes

If observed, seek help as soon as possible by contacting a mental health professional or calling 1-800-273-8255.