NEW ORLEANS - Andrew O'Brien may have survived a tour in Iraq, but he nearly succumbed to the depression that followed when he returned.
“I did attempt suicide. I attempted it in 2010. I took a bunch of pills and ended up going to the hospital and having to get my stomach pumped and a tube shoved down my throat,” said O'Brien, an army veteran who left the military in 2011.
Now O'Brien is sharing his story with others in hopes of shedding light on a growing problem. Last year, more active duty military died from suicide than in combat.
A group called the NOLA Patriots rallied for awareness at the Veterans' Memorial in Metairie Saturday.
“You come back and you feel like you're just supposed to go right back into who you were before,” said O'Brien. “And you come back and you're paranoid about everything.”
This year, the Department of Veterans Affairs released a study that showed more veterans have committed suicide than previously thought. They said there were an average of 22 suicides a day, one nearly every hour.
Danielle Comeaux lost her son to suicide in 2011. Specialist Matthew Comeaux had just returned home from a tour in Afghanistan. He was 21.
“I'm only ashamed, not of Matthew, I'm ashamed that we didn't know what the signs were to recognize so that we could have helped him,” said Comeaux.
Comeaux wants to help other families recognize the signs before it's too late.
She said she didn’t realize her son’s heavy drinking indicated more serious issues.
“They're told basically, be a man, be a woman, suck it up. So they learn that they have to keep that quiet, so when they are feeling down, they don't express that, nor do they seek that help,” said Comeaux.
Comeaux said the public needs to let veterans know they're not alone, while O'Brien believes the military should focus on peer support groups.
They say if one military suicide can be prevented, those like Matthew Comeaux did not die in vain.
O’Brien wrote a book showing families how to help military members and veterans. “Welcoming Your Soldier Home” is available on Kindle. You can find out more at www.wyshproject.org.