Daniel Somers' family uses own pain to help other military families
By Leslie Draffin
Every 65 minutes, a veteran commits suicide. One of those veterans, Sgt. Daniel Somers, took his life ten years after joining the National Guard. His parents say their own personal tragedy is preventing other families from experiencing this pain.Daniel Somers joined the California National Guard in 2003. His parents, Howard and Jean Somers, say Daniel didn't join to go to war but in January 2004, that's exactly where he went.Daniel worked with military police units doing counter intelligence and serviced as a gunner atop humvees. He saw hundreds of combat missions in some of the most dangerous parts of Iraq."He was exposed to a lot of concussive injuries," Howard, said. "They were out looking for bad guys, they weren't looking for trouble but they were looking for bad guys so trouble followed them wherever they went"13 months later, their son came home. But they quickly knew he wasn't the same Daniel they remembered."I think the thing we noticed most was just how skittish he was," Jean said. But Daniel immediately threw himself into his next mission: attending the defense language institute."He tested off the charts, they gave him any language that he wanted and he picked Arabic," Howard said. "Daniel told us that he believed in the mission but not in the way it was being fought or the way it was happening. So his whole goal was to go back and to fix things."Daniel got the chance in 2007. He volunteered to return to war as a civilian contractor."He was going out on missions with the special forces," Howard said.Although he wanted to do good for others, his decision made things worse for him."He came back and he knew he was in trouble," Jean said.Daniel had been battling suicidal thoughts since his first deployment but he kept those problems secret, fearing he wouldn't be allowed to return to Iraq.When he finally sought treatment from the VA, he had to wait three months for an appointment. He soon fell into the VA's outdated system."There was no way to call and make an appointment, they didn't call you if you missed an appointment," Howard said.Like so many veterans, Daniel was diagnosed with PTSD and a traumatic brain injury. In his journal, Daniel details his mental and physical pain and channeled his frustration into music.He founded the Phoenix-based rock group Lisa Savidge. One of the band's most popular songs, 'Fire Exiting', details daniel's time at war.Lyrics included "I wanted a lot of things... what I didn't want was this." Howard says his son was generous but didn't get what he deserved."He was the most generous person and life for some reason didn't give him very many breaks." Howard and Jean say when they saw Daniel for the last time, they didn't know how bad things really were."Basically he was sucking it up and putting on a front for us and making us believe that everything was okay," Howard said.But everything was not okay. On June 10, 2013, Daniel committed suicide.He began his final letter by the people he loved the most "I am sorry that it has come down to this". His family decided to share the letter with the world."We really fell he put a voice to so many issues that we couldn't not share it and give people that insight that we felt he had," Jean said.Now, their mission is changing the way the VA works so other families don't have to experience this pain."We're doing this because we know this is what he wanted us to do, this is what HE would do," Howard said.Since his death, his parents have been busy raising awareness about veteran suicide rates.
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