The cost of drunk driving

HANSCOM AIR FORCE BASE, Mass. – (Editor’s note: This article previously ran in October 2014. As part of September’s Suicide Prevention Month and National Recovery Month, 66th Medical Squadron Mental Health officials asked that it run again with an update included below.)

When I first came to work here in 2011, it was after a long and fulfilling career as a private sector psychotherapist. I had clients with problems everyone recognized: depression, anxiety, relationship problems, financial stress and children acting out. I felt what I was doing was important, and it was.

Soon after starting at the 66th Medical Squadron as the Alcohol and Drug Abuse Prevention and Treatment program manager, my daughter got a call; one of her friends had been in a major car accident. He was a passenger in the vehicle. He sustained numerous injuries, among them, a broken neck and severe head trauma. I had never met this young man before, but he was a military service member. He had served his time on active duty and was deployed to Iraq during Operation Iraqi Freedom. He was currently in the reserves.

Over the next several weeks, we learned he would not be physically disabled by the neck injury but only suffered temporary physical limitations. The head injury was another story. He was going to suffer long-term cognitive deficits. He didn't have any family members available to care for him, and he lived alone in a rundown one-bedroom apartment.

He had no means of transportation to get to his medical appointments while he recovered. He had no car, no telephone, and was very secluded. When my daughter brought him over for dinner, it became clear to me he was not eating well, was not taking care of himself, and was terribly depressed.

I questioned whether he was thinking about suicide. I asked him and his response was, "I am not much good to anyone now, am I?"

I invited him to stay for the night. Then, he stayed a few more nights and we helped him get to doctor appointments and make connections at the Veterans Administration Hospital. Over time, he got back on his feet and the VA system assisted him in finding a better apartment and disability benefits.

After seeing what this young man has been through, this job is particularly significant for me.

My daughter's young veteran friend was a passenger in a car with a drunk driver. Having been drinking himself, he made the poor choice of getting in that car, and a small but important choice not to put on his seatbelt.

This proud, sharp, fit and bright young man was no longer capable of holding a job or sustaining a relationship. I am committed to do what I can to prevent this from happening to anyone else.

Today, our friend has adjusted to his new lifestyle. He continues to face adversity, but with the help of friends and health professionals, he receives the support he needs. He has learned to ask for help from those who care about him, something that was not easy for him in the days after his accident when he had trouble seeing beyond his difficulties.

So, please be a good Wingman. Drink responsibly, and if you see someone struggling, ask if they are thinking about killing themselves.

Asking about suicide will not cause someone to harm themselves.

September is Suicide Prevention Month and National Recovery Month; please do your part.

If a service member would like to discuss thoughts of suicide, alcohol or any other issue that is troubling them, call the Mental Health Clinic at 781-225-6392. Dependents can contact case management at the clinic 781-225-6258.

Civilians should contact the Employee Assistance Program at 800-222-0364 or their insurance company for referrals.