'There were times I had the gun in my mouth:' United States army veteran says he was given a second chance

"There were times I had the gun in my mouth," United States Army veteran says he was given a second chance
Posted at 6:23 PM, Sep 11, 2023
and last updated 2023-09-12 12:36:01-04

NORFOLK, Va. — September is National Suicide Prevention Month. Over the past year, the Department of Defense found that close to 100 active-duty military members died by suicide in the first three months of 2023.

On Monday, a rehab for veterans suffering from suicidal thoughts, PTSD, addiction, and depression opened in Caroline County. An Army veteran, who went to war immediately after 9/11 says the treatment center saved his life.

Shayne St. John says he gave 17 years of his life to the United States Army, joining shortly after Sept. 11, 2001. St. John says he was medically retired from the army due to a physical injury to his back and PTSD.

"I would definitely say it occurred in Iraq in 2008. I lost more friends to suicide than I had on the battlefield," explains St. John.

After returning home, St. John says he continued to fight a different kind of battle.

"I was in a really dark place. I struggled to relate to people back home and I started drinking. Eventually, I isolated myself and I developed feelings of unworthiness," recalls St. John.

Eventually, Shayne developed a drinking addiction that nearly cost him his life.

"There were a couple of times when I came close to suicide and had the gun in my mouth. In the back of my mind were my children, which is why I never pulled the trigger."

According to a quarterly suicide report by the Department of Defense, 49 active-duty service members from the Army died of suicide in the first three months of 2023.This is the largest number of deaths pertaining to suicide in a single quarter seen by the Department of Defense in eight years. A grand total of suicides by Army, Marines, Air-Force, Navy,and Space-Force amounted to 94 suicides three months into 2023.

April Green is a clinic director for the Steven A. Cohen Military Family Clinic at the Up Center in Virginia Beach. Green says the support service organization says 40 percent of their 2200 clients are veterans.

Green says the organization has found that suicide was a topic weighing on the minds of some of their clients which they found through comprehensive risk assessments.

"Often nestled up in the risk factors are things such as experiences of trauma whether it's military sexual trauma, combat-related trauma, trauma within the military service, or even outside of military service," explains Green.

St. John says he recovered from his alcohol addiction and received help for suicidal thoughts through a treatment center called Warriors Heartin Texas. Recently, Governor Glenn Youngkin asked the organization to come to Virginia to reach veterans across the state.

Warriors Heart's Virginia facility sits on 520 acres of land and treats veterans struggling with drug and alcohol addiction, PTSD, and suicidal thoughts.

While two hours away from Norfolk, the facility in Caroline County distances the warriors from the distractions, noises, and stresses of the city.

St. John says a battle against addiction and depression doesn't need to be fought alone. Instead, he encourages veterans to talk out their trauma with trusted professionals and comrades from different tours.

"With war comes a price and just be prepared for that and make sure you get help when it's called upon you," says St. John.

Warriors Heart says they have services to take veterans from Hampton Roads to their Virginia location. The treatment center also says that they take insurance but will not turn away a veteran who needs help.

The center says they will work out finances so that care can be administered.