A veteran mentioned suicide online. Five months later, he was found dead.

Matt Saintsing
June 26, 2018 - 7:17 pm

Photo Courtesy of Joy Jaramillo

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Joy Jaramillo describes her ex-husband, Ben James, as a beam of intense positive energy. He was funny, a history buff, loved the military and the Carolina Panthers.

“He was always the life of the party, and very sarcastic,” says Jaramillo. “He made everyone laugh all the time.”

He also struggled with depression and post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD). Frustrated with the process of filing a claim with the Department of Veterans Affairs (VA), he wrote the following Facebook status on January 5th: “Filing my VA Disability Claim is so frustrating that I’m now considering hanging myself instead of finishing. So many stupid freaking questions.”

What was mentioned, perhaps in passing, in the January Facebook status became a reality on June 7th when his body was found. He had hung himself.

Photo Courtesy of Joy Jaramillo

James served nearly a decade as an infantryman in the 116th Infantry Brigade Combat Team (BCT) of the Virginia Army National Guard, deploying twice to Iraq and once to Afghanistan.

He didn’t like to talk about his time in war, but Jaramillo said he provided convoy security.

“I knew he was driving big trucks and transporting people or equipment,” she says. “I remember one time he told me his convoy was shot at, but that was pretty much the only time he ever mentioned combat.”

Jaramillo later found out from James’ dad and brother that he had been involved in at least one improvised explosive device (IED) explosion.

After leaving the Guard at the end of January, James fell into a spiral that included financial distress, homelessness, and feelings of helplessness, abandonment and isolation.

It's unclear if he received therapy or other mental health care either with the VA or while in the Guard, but according to Jaramillo, James thought he filed a VA claim for PTSD. "He told me he did go to the VA for an assessment and diagnosis," she says. "I did follow-up myself to see if he ever filed a disability claim, but he never actually filed it." 

The VA told her he had only began the intent to file process, but never did file a completed disabiltiy claim. 

James’s story is heartbreaking, but, tragically, is far from unique. “Transition” has become a dirty word of sorts, and nearly every veteran knows of a horror story or two involving a veteran struggling to make the switch from service member to civilian.

But there’s also help, resources, and organizations that provide everything from cash to pay a crucial bill, to advice on how to best use the GI Bill and other earned benefits, to fostering a conducive environment for therapy and other healing.

There’s even help for veterans struggling to navigate the complicated water of filing a VA claim.

Even when everything looks to be going well, veterans, like James, need support—especially when it comes to mental health.  

“About a month ago, he told me he got a new job doing masonry and carpeting,” says Jaramillo. “It seemed like his life was going in a good direction from my perspective.”

He had even told her via text message that he was one year sober through a church program called Celebrate Recovery, a Christian-centered 12-step program for addiction. 

But on June 6th, he posted another Facebook status that reads like a suicide note, and a final goodbye.

Courtesy of Joy Jaramillo.

James left behind Joy, his ex-wife and friend, his current spouse, one step child and three children of his own, two of which he had with Joy.

She set up a GoFundMe to cover expenses for the children and their college savings account. She works for the Social Security Administration in Washington, D.C., so there is an income coming in, but Joy adds that the GoFundMe page is for all of his children.

For other veterans who may struggling with some of the same issues James was, Jaramillo wants them to know they’re not alone.

“If they’re feeling alone and that nobody cares there are more people who love them and care about them than they realize,” she says.

“I just wish Ben would have called me, or his parents or anybody. He had a lot of people who loved him.”

Veterans who are in crisis or having thoughts of suicide, and those who know a Veteran in crisis, should call the Veterans Crisis Line at 800-273-8255 and press 1, chat online at VeteransCrisisLine.net/Chat, or send a text message to 838255.