ST. PETERSBURG, Fla. (WTSP) – Thousands of veterans have gone to the VA medical center at Bay Pines in Florida for various types of health care. On August 25th, 2015, former U.S. Marine Gerhard Reitmann, a Vietnam War veteran, went to Bay Pines for a different reason.
That morning Gerhard called his brother Stephen, then went to a parking lot on the Bay Pines campus and shot himself. After years of living with post-traumatic stress from his tours in Vietnam, Gerhard Reitmann decided he could not endure another day.
“That’s one of the biggest reasons why he did it at the V.A.,” said Stephen Reitmann more than a year after his brother’s suicide. “He wanted to show ‘you’re not taking care of me’.”
Now having had time to reflect and go over the final years of his brother’s life in hindsight, Stephen and his partner Linda Aurin saw the warning signs were there.
“You could see what he was thinking by seeing all these little tidbits,” said Stephen, describing what he found in Gerhard’s apartment after his suicide. “Little notes here, a bible, and you put it all together and you go ‘oh, this is how you’re supposed to feel when you’re committing suicide’.”
“We could have helped him and because of who he is, he didn’t ask. And that’s the horrible part about suicide,” said Aurin. “The last time we stopped in and saw him we noticed that he had newspapers covering his walls, all his blinds were closed because he was very paranoid, he was asking us did we want to take stuff. At that point we didn’t realize but that was pretty close to when it happened.”
Reitmann’s story is just one of thousands across the United States. A Veterans Affairs study found that 20 U.S. veterans died by suicide every day in 2014. Two years before that, in 2012, then Defense Secretary Leon Panetta declared a military suicide epidemic in testimony before Congress.
And with a whole new generation of combat veterans coming home from wars in Iraq and Afghanistan, many worry the epidemic will only get worse if nothing is done to stop it.
“It is something that has to change, not just because it has affected this whole family, it’s affecting people every single day,” added Aurin. “There’s still so much going on over there, there are so many young kids coming back that are in the same position. This is going to continue unless they change that whole system.”
Learn more about military suicide, the Charlie Foxtrot project and sign the Fairness for Veterans petition to Congress HERE.