WASHINGTON (Gray DC) -- These days, there’s more attention on preventing suicide among service members and veterans, but now the question is - what about their families.
Now some activists and Virginia Senator Tim Kaine (D) are demanding more information from the federal government.
America’s soldiers endure scars from the battlefield but sometimes the invisible wounds cut the deepest.
Kim Ruocco’s late husband, John, was a pilot in the Marines, but before his second deployment to Iraq, he died by suicide. That devastation began a painful journey for Kim and her two sons.
“He was an amazing guy. He was full of life," says Kim Ruocco, vice president of suicide prevention and postvention for the Tragedy Assistance Program For Survivors (TAPS).
"He was the guy that everybody went to for help, which is kind of ironic but one thing he didn’t do was he didn’t ask for help for himself. He never really told anybody that he was suffering."
The military widow says when he husband died, not only did she have to work through that loss, but her attention turned to her sons and guiding them through the healing process.
“I really didn’t know where to start and how to help them and how to rebuild my family.”
Kim’s journey eventually led her to the Tragedy Assistance Program for Survivors, or TAPS.
As she became active lifting up others coping with similar grief, she learned that losing someone to suicide can make those left behind at higher risk of taking their own lives one day.
Kim now leads a program at TAPS to prevent that very tragedy from happening but she worries about those who have not found the right support.
“The ones that feel alone and feel like they can’t get through this and can’t survive this that are really at risk," explains Kim.
Virginia Senator Tim Kaine shares her concerns. Earlier this month, he wrote to Defense Secretary Jim Mattis, asking for the data on how many military family members die by suicide. It’s information Congress mandated the Department of Defense collect in 2014.
“If we don’t get the data about families, then we don’t know what steps to take," explains Kaine.
Kaine says with more than a decade and a half of the nation at war, repeated deployments put a unique stress on service members and their families.
“We’re sort of on autopilot now and that has a significant effect on families and their mental health.”
A spokeswoman tells us the Department of Defense has set up a new system for collecting this information and now they’re working to ensure the records are accurate.
The Department of Defense also directed us to resources for service members and their families. She says those in need can reach out anytime to the Defense Suicide Prevention office or Military OneSource for help.
There's also the Veterans and Military Crisis Line: (800) 273-8255, press 1. For non-crisis and peer support use the BeThere Peer Support Call Center: (844) 357-PEER (7337).
For those working through loss, you can go to www.taps.org for support or the 2477 call line, 1-800-959-TAPS.