About a quarter of a million veterans call San Diego home and that number is growing. Sadly, the number of veterans who commit suicide is also going up.
This number grew from 93 in 2016 to 111 in 2017, according to the state.
One mother who lost her son to suicide said these numbers were disturbing given the sacrifices of service members and their families. “You answer a calling that not everybody answers,” she said.
Kathy Shott’s son took his life five years ago on Christmas Day.
From the time Tony Shott was little, his mother said he knew he wanted to follow in her footsteps and join the military.
“I think it was in his heart that he knew he needed to give something back,” Kathy told NBC 7. “And his way of giving back was to join the military.”
He graduated from the Marine Corps Recruit Depot in the Midway District three days after the Sept. 11th attacks and went on to serve his country for more than a decade.
But when he left the military, like many veterans, he left something else behind – his identity.
“I think we lose a part of who we were, and then we fight to try and find it,” said Kathy.
Tony was coping with post-traumatic stress and working through what his mother said was a difficult marriage. As a new father, he was doing his best to make sure he could be with his son.
In 2013, two days before Christmas, he went to the Veterans Affairs Office in Missouri and told them he wasn’t going to make it through the holidays.
His mother said they gave him anti-anxiety medication and sent him home.
“They failed him. They failed him in a big way,” she said.
That’s when Tony took his life on Christmas Day.
The California Department of Public Health said 93 veterans committed suicide in San Diego County in 2016, compared to 105 in Los Angeles County.
But in 2017, that number jumped to 111 veterans in San Diego, while the number dropped to 93 in L.A., where there are 30,000 more veterans.
One reason for the increase could be that the San Diego VA is now working with San Diego County Medical Examiner’s Office to better identify veteran suicides, the local VA healthcare system told NBC 7.
The Coroner’s Office in L.A. said they don’t work with their VA.
A new bill will require the state to better track and report veteran suicide numbers in 2019 with the hopes of helping increase funding for prevention.
While it’s not always the case, numbers show that veterans who reach out to the VA are less likely to commit suicide than those who don’t.
Kathy said it’s critical for veterans to reach out and remember, “Whatever this minute looks like, the next minute is going to be better.”
And no matter the number, any loss of life is tragic, especially for families and children like Tony's son, Aiden.
“Aiden is going to miss out on a great guy,” Kathy said. “I can only pray that Aiden grows up to be like his dad.”
If you or someone you know needs help, call the Suicide Crisis Lifeline at 1-800-273-8255.