Phoenix police learning to cope with suicidal military veterans

PHOENIX - In two tours of duty in Iraq, Kevin Ivory survived three IED attacks.

It's the last one he can't get out of his mind.

He was thrown fifty feet from his Humvee.

His gunner lost an arm. And the trauma and pain of that day didn't go away when he finally came home to Arizona.

"I just ran," Ivory said. "I didn't sleep. I didn't eat a lot. I just to stay as busy as possible."

Staying busy meant trying to escape.

He also drank heavily, took pain meds, and alienated friends and family.

"It was torture, he said. "It really is torture. No matter what you do. No matter what happens. You can't find joy in anything."

And then there was the guilt.  

Ivory was a Navy corpsman - a medic in the field. He watched fifteen friends during his hitch, and took responsibility for each one of them.

"You got blood on your hands," he said, "and that's somebody's life. That person will never breathe again. That father, that brother, will never be able to smile and enjoy another moment with their kids, and that's on you."

One morning Ivory decided to end the pain.

"At one point, I had a gun in my mouth and obviously I couldn't pull the trigger. At that point, I just made the decision; either you're going to get help, or you're going to pull the trigger."

Ivory did get help, but many vets don't

According to the Veterans Administrations, twenty-two vets take their own lives each day in the U.S. The death toll in just a few short years has exceeded the combat casualties in the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan combined.

Police and first responders have discovered another disturbing trend: the stunning number of vets who die in confrontations with law enforcement.

They call it suicide by cop, something police in the Valley are all too familiar with.

"This train is on the track and it's headed our way," according to Steve Soha, a retired Phoenix police officer and Marine Corps vet, who has seen the problem first hand. He's examined numerous cases where officers found themselves confronting a vet in crisis, and believes police have to change their thinking.

"Law enforcement and fire service really need to be aware and bring themselves up to speed. You have two types of alpha-dogs when you're dealing with law enforcement and military," according to Soha. "The military has been trained. You're not going to dominate them."

Soha has developed a program in Phoenix which is gaining notice nationwide.

It teaches officers to recognize when their dealing with a vet in crisis, and to de-escalate the confrontation so it doesn't lead to a use of deadly force.

"You're dealing with someone who's well trained, who's angry," Soha says. You're dealing with someone on their worst day and you're adding chemicals into the mix and it's making it worse."

The program Soha's developed is already saving lives, and is now being used by agencies in other states, but it's just the tip of the iceberg when it comes to the problems facing veterans at home.

If you're a veteran who's struggling to cope, or know someone who is, help 24 help is available 24 hours a day at the Veterans Crisis Hotline.

You can call anytime, seven days a week, 365 days a year at 1-800-273-8255. 

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