Why are our veterans - especially females - killing themselves? - FOX 10 News | myfoxphoenix.com

Why are our veterans - especially females - killing themselves?

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PHOENIX -

According to the most recent reports, military suicides have surpassed combat deaths in Afghanistan. So far this year, more soldiers committed suicide both here and abroad than fell in battle.

Even more alarming -- it seems women veterans are killing themselves at a higher rate. But why?

We spoke to a navy veteran who served five overseas tours in her 13 years of service.

"It was time for me to make a decision, either I was going to ask for help or I wasn't going to be around much longer," says April Wise, U.S. Navy veteran.

April Wise has been out of the navy for five years now. A small town Alabama girl, April signed up right out of high school.

"I was an E-6 First class petty officer. I actually joined because I wanted to travel, being small town I wanted something different."

Her first overseas deployment was aboard a fleet oiler, the U.S.S. Cimarron.

"It was kind of like being Texaco at sea."

After 9-11, she helped deliver marines to Iraq as a diesel mechanic aboard two amphibious assault ships -- the U.S.S. Harpers Ferry and later aboard the much larger U.S.S. Tarawa.

"When you put on a uniform it doesn't matter what your sex is and that's how I felt, going on any of my ships was, I was a sailor."

But while she was working hard and moving up in rank, April Wise was keeping a dark secret.

"It wasn't an officer, it was an individual who was my supervisor at the time."

During a deployment aboard the Cimarron, April was sexually assaulted. She did not report it.

"Sometimes supervisors might actually… see opportunity. 18, 19 years old in the middle of nowhere and you've never been outside of the United States."

After two years of therapy at the VA in Phoenix, April wanted to tell her story.

"It was just a time when I believed the individual just found an opportunity and I just assumed that oh well if I say anything I am just going to get labeled like everybody else."

After all, she was just a young recruit trying to follow orders.

"You just put blind faith in individuals and by admitting something was wrong or that had happened, it very well to me, looking back to me now, it was as I were alone again."

Doctor Leslie Telfer works with veterans suffering from PTSD or Post Traumatic Stress Syndrome.

"We also unfortunately see a fair amount of military sexual trauma that can happen in either a war zone or other military situations," says Dr. Leslie Telfer, Ph. D Chief of Psychology Services.

Most of the patients she sees suffer from battle-field trauma -- but not all. And new treatments are showing positive results.

"Talking about and hearing about that experience over and over again, it really helps them process what has happened to them," says Dr. Telfer.

But first they have to walk through that door.

"Sometimes it can be hard for women to come to a VA facility."

If women don't seek help, the consequences can be tragic. According to a study in Psychiatric Services, female veterans were three times more likely to kill themselves than non veterans. By comparison male veterans are only twice as likely to take their own lives.

"There was substance abuse, significant amount," says April.

April left the navy to care for her daughter -- but her problems didn't end.

"In civilian life I was still hiding, I was doing exactly what I had done in the military. If I work hard no one is going to know. To be honest it's much easier in the civilian world because nobody needs to know."

There was also no one around to give her orders. April didn't know what to do.

"To me everything was chaos at the time. I didn't have the life skills, those skills you acquire at 18, 19 years old and even on into your 20s I didn't have those skills."

Drug abuse, fear, anger, depression -- all symptoms of PTSD -- began to take hold.

"I didn't want to be a burden on anybody else and I didn't want to… I didn't want to run the risk of my daughter growing up and being like me."

But it was April's daughter who may have saved her mom's life.

"My daughter said to me ‘mommy are you okay,' and I had actually yelled at her over something ridiculous and that's when I knew. Because I could feel it there was this anger and it wasn't at her, it wasn't at anything physical I just had anger."

April went to the VA hospital in Phoenix and she didn't leave until she got some help. Today, she's a different person.

"It's okay to have feelings and it's okay to disagree and it's also okay to tell somebody no, and if it does happen, you take the steps to make sure someone else is notified and that it never happens again."

April Wise is back to being an over-achiever again. She has her masters in Substance Abuse Counseling and is studying for her doctorate.

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