When it comes to supporting the troops at war, we love our soldiers. But when they come home, many vets don’t get the support and services they deserve. An estimated 22 veterans per day commit suicide every day. And that is too many. Fortunately, in the case of U.S. Army Sergeant Josh Marino, fate intervened, and two lives were saved.
About Veteran Suicides
Returning veterans have a significantly higher rate of suicide than the general public. This can come from internal causes, like PTSD or combat guilt. It can also come from depression caused by outside forces, like homelessness, unemployment, and the lasting effects of injuries. Many feel that society is happy to send people to fight in battle, but not to take care of them once they return with the scars of that battle. Add a lack of affordable housing and affordable health care to the mix, and that can leave a lot of people feeling hopeless.
U.S. Army Sergeant Josh Marino was feeling hopeless. He had struggled with a brain injury he received during a mortar attack while serving in Iraq. He was also experiencing post-traumatic stress disorder. And the burden had become just too heavy.
“A lot of times,” Marino said in his short film below, “having an invisible wound that no one can see, you’re just not believed.”
As a result of his combat experiences, Marino was experiencing crippling anxiety. He couldn’t focus or get through his daily activities.
Marino was at his barracks at Fort Riley in Kansas, when he decided to end his life.
He didn’t want to deal with it anymore — the anxiety, his injuries, and their effects. He wrote a suicide note on his computer, took out one of his knives, then went outside to have one last cigarette in the rain.
What He Heard
While he had his last cigarette, a little black and white kitten crawled out of the bushes.
“He just walked up and started rubbing up against my leg and let me pet him, I broke down crying, burst into tears,” Marino said in his film. “Maybe he knew there was something I couldn’t quite handle.”
And that was enough to get Marino’s thoughts working in a different direction.
“I stopped thinking about all my problems, and started thinking about his problems and what I could do to help him.”
Over the next few days, Marino bonded with the kitten. Every day, he would go outside with a plate of tuna and sit on the steps. The kitten would hop up on his lap and eat. Eventually, the kitten, who Marino named Scout, recognized his voice and would come when Marino called.
“This guy gave me something to look forward to every day,” Marino said.
But then one day, the kitten didn’t come. Marino was devastated. But the kitten had taught him the importance of caring for someone else. And despite his sadness, Marino moved on.
What Happened Next
Eventually, Marino began to date Becky, a woman he’d known in high school. Still thinking of how Scout had helped him, Marino wanted to help someone else. So they decided to adopt a cat together.
Imagine their surprise when they went to an adoption event and found Scout waiting! They were walking through two rows of crates, and a little paw reached out through the bars of one crate and patted Marino on the arm. The friends were reunited!
But that wasn’t all. Marino eventually received his medical discharge. He moved back to his hometown of Pittsburgh, with Scout, and he and Becky married. Marino quit smoking and took up cycling. He also earned a Master’s degree in Rehabilitation and Counseling, and now helps veterans who were in the same place he had been a few years before. You can learn more about their story in Marino’s short film below.
How You Can Help At-Risk Veterans
If you want to help veterans struggling with injuries, illness, homelessness, or unemployment, here are some ways to do it.
The Wounded Warrior Project supports veterans with a variety of programs. These include mental health support, physical health support, career counseling, and navigating the VA benefits system. Find out how you can get involved at their website.
Pets for Vets helps both veterans and shelter dogs to form new beginnings. The program matches a veteran with a shelter dog that needs a home. The dogs receive basic training. Some also receive training in recognizing and responding to panic and anxiety. Pets for vets has chapters around the country and is happy to take both donations and volunteers.
You can also serve those who served their country by volunteering directly with the VA.
Featured Image is a screenshot from the featured video