After experiencing rape in the military, Brian Lewis struggled with suicide. Don’t let the mask fool you.
People say they follow me on Facebook. People “know” the supposedly successful military sexual trauma advocate I have become. People come up to me thanking me for making a stand about the bad treatment survivors receive from the Department of Defense and the Veterans Health Administration. People see that I worked with other survivors to found Men Recovering from Military Sexual Trauma to bring light to the knowledge that a majority of service members being raped in the military are men. People know that I have “overcome” the trauma to become a second year student at Hamline University School of Law.
What these same people don’t know is how much I struggle with suicide. I’ve tried multiple times since the rape. The Department of Defense never cared that a fellow “shipmate” aboard the USS Frank Cable committed that crime against me. The captain simply wanted the problem off the ship. Instead of seeing the perpetrator as the problem, he saw the victim as the problem. I was placed in four-point restraints, chemically sedated, and medically evacuated off the ship. Not too long after I was shipped back to our homeport in disgrace, I tried suicide for the first time. I tried hanging myself inside the South Tipalao housing area on Naval Station Guam that all Cable sailors were assigned to back then. The only thing that saved me was the fact the rope failed. After that, as the command retaliation worsened, I began trying suicide as often as possible. I tried drinking myself to death. I tried cutting myself. I tried any and every way possible to end myself so I wouldn’t have to waste more time facing the Navy’s attempts to label me as the problem instead of my rapist. Once sent to San Diego, supposedly for more intense help at Naval Medical Center San Diego but really a cover to kick me out, I was medicated so intensely I could not hardly feel anything. So I tried overdosing on the pills I was taking because I was tired of the psychiatrist there calling me a liar about being raped. The psychiatrist eventually ended up recommending me for a Personality Disorder discharge.
After I was kicked out of the Navy in disgrace, I didn’t know what to do with myself. One of my very closest shipmates, Dan Larkin, had me come to his house for a few days and tried to piece me back together. He couldn’t but I still appreciate the effort to this day. I spent many years hurt and on the verge of suicide after that.
The most recent time was in April this year. I had almost succeeded in pushing every one of my closest friends away. All I knew was that I was hurting because I couldn’t tell my closest friends what exactly was going wrong because I was scared. My fiancée (now husband) didn’t know what else to do for me. Anthony, who is an NCO in the Minnesota National Guard, still came through as one of my closest friends. He came over to my house around midnight, picked me up and took me to the Minneapolis VA. Anthony and my husband stood by me every step of the way after that as well. I’m proud to say Anthony was the best man at my wedding to Andy no matter how much I hurt him. He never sought, nor received, recognition for this act of kindness of saving a former sailor from suicide.
Suicide wears a mask. A person can look happy, hale, and healthy yet that demon hides behind the mask. The Veterans Health Administration is not interested in helping MST survivors face down the demon that is suicide. It takes good healthcare that the Department of Defense and the Veterans Health Administration are unwilling to provide to MST survivors. We need to demand DoD and VA do better. 22 or more veterans per day taking their lives is simply unacceptable. Outsourcing the suicide prevention effort to staff at the Veteran’s Crisis Line is not a sufficient, nor a long-term solution to this serious issue facing veterans of many eras. It takes a village of people caring about a person just the same as my husband and my friends did for me.