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A Father's Story Of A Veteran Suicide

Photos: Jeff Whittington/KERA Staff
Chuck Cone's son committed suicide after four combat tours as a U.S. Marine.

WASHINGTON - Twenty two veterans take their own lives each day. That’s according to a study conducted by the Office of Veterans Affairs. Over the weekend, a small group of veterans hoped to shine a spotlight on the problem with a walk around the National Mall in Washington called Walk for the Voiceless.

Tyler Cone's picture was on the t-shirts of many of those taking part in Saturday's walk.

Chuck Cone flew in from Nebraska to take part in the walk. It’s been a little over a year since his son, Tyler – a Marine - committed suicide after four combat tours. Two in Iraq, two in Afghanistan.

“They say he suffered from Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder. I don’t call it that. I call it ‘moral injury.’ It’s a similar affliction, but it’s closely related – maybe they’re the exact same? I don’t know for sure," Cone said. "But he knew right from wrong, and he was ordered to do some things that he knew were wrong, but he followed orders like he was supposed to, and he never could recover from some of the atrocities that he committed over there.”

Cone says between tours, Tyler came home to Nebraska and drank for 30 straight days. Dad understood why after some of Tyler’s fellow Marines gave him just the G-rated version of what they saw during their tours.

“He tried to get help, and if you tell your superiors that you need help, then you’re considered damaged goods," he said. "It’s a career ruiner, and you’re looked down on as an outcast.”

Cone says it’s the military’s responsibility to change that perception among service members.

“The best counselors they have are their combat buddies who have been there," he said. "And that’s what we’re trying to not reach anybody besides just their combat buddies and say, ‘You guys are the ones who can save these guys. No one else can seem to do it very well.’”

A vital part of Cone’s healing has been the many friends and family who’ve called just to talk. To see how he’s doing. And he hopes more veterans will make those kinds of calls to vets in need like Tyler.

Today on Think, Krys Boyd talks to Dr. Harold Kudler - chief consultant for Mental Health Services for the Office of Veterans Affairs – and Michael Fisher, program analyst for the VA’s Readjustment Counseling Service. The conversation takes place at noon on KERA 90.1 FM as Think broadcasts from NPR Headquarters in Washington.

Their reason for being there was somber. But that didn't keep many of the Walk for the Voiceless participants from having a little fun on the steps of the Lincoln Memorial.

Stephen Becker is executive producer of the "Think with Krys Boyd," which airs on more than 200 stations across the country. Prior to joining the Think team in 2013, as part of the Art&Seek team, Stephen produced radio and digital stories and hosted "The Big Screen" — a weekly radio segment about North Texas film — with Chris Vognar.