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Suicide-prevention program helps soldiers cope, heal | Moms

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Suicide-prevention program helps soldiers cope, heal

AUBURN, CA - While the nation struggles to reverse the growing trend of soldiers committing suicide, a Natomas veteran is crediting a local prevention program with saving his life.

Everyday in America, one active duty soldier commits suicide. And every 80 minutes, one veteran takes his or her own life, according to the U.S. Department of Defense and the Centers for Disease Control.  There has been an 18-percent increase in suicides among U.S. active duty troops in 2012, compared with 2011.  The army reports there's no way to accurately gauge how well their suicide prevention programs are working, but it contends the rate would be four times as high today without intervention.

Natomas resident Jonathan Cullifer, a 17-year combat veteran who fought in Iraq, Somalia, Afghanistan, Bosnia among other countries, could have been one of those statistics.

Cullifer proudly served his country, living out a childhood dream to be a Marine. "I instilled a sense of honor, integrity, courage and pride you can't imagine unless you've done it," he said. "I had always wanted to be a marine, since I was five."

In combat, Cullifer witnessed the deaths of many of his fellow marines, including the death of his best friend who was shot while standing beside him. Cullifer avoided the bullet, but the event took him down a path of depression so severe, he contemplated killing himself.

Cullifer suffered injuries of his own that ended his active service in the military.  He took a bullet to the knee and shrapnel to the head. He was sent home, home where he says the real war began.

"I was trained to be a marine.  I wasn't trained to be a civilian," he said. "The military lost my paperwork four times. Money wasn't coming in. I couldn't get a job. I had to move my family a half dozen times. In the military I was trained not to leave anyone behind. But when I came home, it was like being kicked to the curb. Lost. Forgotten."

Cullifer began having flashbacks and nightmares.  Doctors prescribed medication but nothing was working to relieve his pain.  He saw no option other than suicide.

"I had the date on the calendar. I had the method. I had the means," he said.

But two days before he would have ended his life, Cullifer found The Forgotten Soldier Program founded by Donna Arz of Auburn.  And within minutes of beginning the program, Cullifer knew he had found the hope and healing he needed.  The program provided camaraderie, counseling, advice and coping skills to help him lead a civilian life. It offered resources that helped him settle issues with military paperwork and compensation. 

By the end of the first day, Cullifer abandoned his suicide plans.

That was nine months ago, and today, Cullifer is a swim coach for a Rio Linda youth team.  He spends time with his children, his wife and service dog.  And he himself has become an integral part of The Forgotten Soldier Program as a guest speaker.

"I would bend over backwards and expend every ounce of energy I have to explain this program. This program is a lifesaver.  It should be in every state. It should be in every place there are troops because it saves lives."

For more information on The Forgotten Soldier Program call 530-889-2300 or email the program at info@Forgottensoldier.com.  To become involved or donate time or money, visit Indiegogo.com and look for "Military Suicide: Are we losing the battle?"


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