Just days after his release from a VA hospital in Palo Alto, California, Army veteran Terry O’Hearn took his own life
Terry O’Hearn came into the world a fighter, his mother, Robin, says. But after serving in the Army in Iraq and Afghanistan, she says, he changed. “He wasn’t as happy-go-lucky,” she said. “He seemed to pull back from all of us.”
O’Hearn battled post-traumatic stress disorder for years. In 2016, he put a homemade shotgun to his chest and fired. He survived, spending the next few weeks in a Department of Veterans Affairs hospital in Palo Alto, California.
As her son recovered, Robin worried what he would do when he left the VA hospital. She says she begged the hospital to keep him. “He’s isolated himself,” she remembers saying. “Please do not let him go. Do not let him go home alone.”
He stayed in the hospital for a total of two weeks. Just days after his release, O’Hearn, 30, took his own life.
Veterans’ suicides, like O’Hearn’s, are an ongoing crisis. Every day, 20 U.S. veterans die by suicide, according to VA statistics. The VA estimated that veterans are more than twice as likely to die by suicide as other members of the public. Their rate of suicide is increasing, just as it is rising among the general population.
Some veterans die by suicide at the very hospitals designed to help them. This month, three veterans took their own lives at VA facilities in just five days.
One veteran shot himself in a busy waiting room at an Austin, Texas, clinic. Two others took their lives at VA centers in Georgia.
Over the past two years, there have been more than 260 suicide attempts at VA facilities, according to the agency, though a vast majority of those attempts — 240 — were thwarted.
In a statement, VA Press Secretary Curt Cashour said, “Our deepest condolences go out to the loved ones affected by these deaths. Due to patient privacy concerns, we will not be discussing the specifics of these cases.”