This year alone, there have been 62 confirmed suicides committed by active duty soldiers. An additional 31 deaths are being investigated as suspected suicides. Last year there were 115 confirmed suicides by soldiers.
Now Congress' Committee on Veterans' Affairs is examining the prevalence of suicides in the military and how they are handled. Tuesday, a Texas Tech psychology professor testified to the committee discussing his findings on suicide in the military.
Dr. David Rudd says suicides have doubled since the start of the Iraq war. One of those suicide victims grew up right here in Lubbock, and his father thinks the military and average American citizens could do more to prevent this tragic trend.
You won't see his name on Lubbock's War Memorial, and there is no headstone to mark his grave, but his memory is still strong to his father, Roy Velez, who says his son Andrew was a great soldier. "When they get out there and they see the stench, their buddies falling. This is reality for them," said Velez.
Both of Velez's sons fought for their county proudly, but on November13, 2004 Fred Velez died in combat. "Fred came home in a pine box. Andrew carried him home," said Velez.
His older brother's death took a toll on Andrew, but when military psychologists evaluated him, they said he could go back to war. His father disagrees, "You think my son was right to go back to war? No."
In July of 2006, Andrew took his own life. Velez thinks it's because he couldn't cope with the pressures of the war that took his brother any longer. "War is terrible. Blood stinks. Dead bodies smell. These guys go out for one thing and when they come back to the United States, and they come back as grown men. They've changed a lot. Some of them can't cope with the reality of the things that they've done there," Velez explains.
Velez thinks the military neglects some important issues when preparing and caring for troops. He said, "They leave out love. They leave out spiritual care."
However, he doesn't blame the military for his son's death, and he thinks America as a whole can help prevent troop suicides through support. "Look for a soldier. Salute him. Shake his hand," he urged.
Less than three years after he lost his oldest son, Velez laid Andrew to rest right beside him. Still today, one tombstone marks two graves. Their father says, whether in combat or not, the war took both his sons.
Andrew Velez's name is not on the Lubbock War Memorial because it does not include the names of soldiers who took their own lives. His brother Fred's name is on there, and while their father wishes both his sons were honored on the wall, he still supports it.
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