You’re Not Alone: Jackson veteran uplifts fellow soldiers in battle against suicide
LANSING, Mich. (WILX) -This month our “You’re Not Alone” mental health series shines a light on military veterans and the rising rate of suicide.
“22 a day”… that phrase has become a call to action for advocates of Iraq and Afghanistan veterans, the group that seems to be most at risk.
One of those advocates is Doug Brinker an Iraq war veteran from Jackson who has made it his mission to tell fellow vets “You’re Not Alone.”
Brinker began his military career in the U.S. Navy in 1981, honorably discharged in ‘84, and that’s when he says he began losing his sense of belonging and purpose.
“I lived in a really dark shadow of clouds and hopelessness,” Brinker said.
After 15 years of broken relationships, and more than fifty different jobs, it all came to a head on Aug. 7, 1999, when Doug attempted to end his life.
Unsuccessful, Doug turned to Lifeways, a mental health services agency in Jackson.
But he says he played a lot of games...
“I took meds when I wanted to take them, and I went to therapy when I wanted to, and not when I needed to.”
That eventually led to a second suicide attempt in February of 2001.
Once again Doug turned to Lifeways for help, and to the military, enlisting in the Michigan Army National Guard in 2002.
Doug’s tour of duty in Iraq lasted only two months when he came down with a near-fatal staph infection.
And while he had to leave his band of brothers in the desert… the bands Doug wears on his wrists remind him, every day, not to give in to the war within.
Brinker says: “It sickens me to know that we’ve lost more veterans to suicide than Iraq and Afghanistan deaths combined.”
One place Doug knew vets could avoid becoming a statistic was Lifeways, a place where Brinker was once a consumer of its services... he is now a veteran peer support specialist there... offering hope...
For his work at Lifeway, Doug Brinker has been called a “beacon for hope”, a description he proudly displays on his Jeep, and he uses every chance he gets to steer troubled vets toward the 9-8-8 Crisis Lifeline.
“It’s imperative to make it simpler to dial 9-8-8, and if you’re a veteran press one, you’re going to be connected to a vet crisis specialist right away,” Brinker said.
Outside of his work at Lifeways, Doug Brinker is also the PTSD Director for the Michigan VFW, and is about to publish a book documenting his life leading up to his suicide attempts.
It has 22 chapters, representing the estimated number of veterans who die by suicide each day.
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