Nov 23, Special Thanksgiving Message: Jeffrey Lucey and the Urgent Need for Mental Healthcare for All Our Veterans

November 23, 2008 – This is the story of our son, Jeffrey Michael Lucey. This will be a brief account of what happened to him – especially after his return from the Iraq War.

There is so much about him on the internet under his name. This is why we will keep this brief.

Jeffrey Michael Lucey was born on March 18, 1981. He was our only son and our middle child – having an older sister and a younger sister. He was your average everyday boy. As he grew up, Jeffrey began to love to play sports, being a clown as well as a little rascal and imp. Jeffrey was a risk taker as well as being popular and industrious in school – at least in elementary and middle school. The first three years of high school was when he discovered girls and the social life but he was able to pull it togther during his senior year and graduated. He then went on to attend Holyoke Community College but that was interrupted by his joining the USMC reserve unit  in December, 1999; then going off to Boot Camp in late May, 2000; finally returning on November 9, 2000  and then being assigned to his unit in New Haven, Ct.. Jeffrey’s life was then further interrupted once more by the War.

Jeffrey being a convoy driver then participated in the invasion the day after his birthday and returned home July 13, 2003 – physically unscathed but mortally wounded. He returned to college. He was to have graduated on June 5, 2004 but weeks before he found himself in the throes of dealing with the hidden wounds of the trauma of War. Regretfully, Jeffrey never did graduate.
In letters other than the ones Jeffrey sent to us while he was in Iraq, Jeffrey described doing immoral things and wishing that the past month ( April of 2003 ) of his life never happened – that he had done things which he had only seen in the movies, ect.
Despite some distance when Jeffrey initially came home, we were unaware of issues other than what we were told would be some re-adjustment back to civilian life.
The first strong clue occurred on December 24, 2003, when Jeffrey, having asked to stay home from Christmas Eve activities, talked to his younger sister while he was crying and drinking and told her that he was nothing more than a murderer – tossing his and other dogtags at her. Yet later that evening and the next day, Jeffrey appearred fine.
During the intervening months, Jeffrey appearred to be drinking more and had some episodes but then things seem to explode. Another issue which came to light was Jeffrey’s daily vomitting ever since he had returned. We sent him to the Doctor and they were going to schedule some medical tests. We came to find out later that that could have been caused by those hidden wounds.
It was in the middle of March, 2004 around school vacation, his birthday and the anniversary of the War that Jeffrey’s downward spiral truly began
From mid-March through June 22, 2004, Jeffrey’s life became a struggle and the symptoms appearred to explode – appearing to fluctuate in intensity and frequency. It was as if a beast was gnawing  and gnashing at Jeffrey’s very essence and ripping chunks out of his spirit … his soul … his being. There were moments that Jeffrey appearred to be quiet only to discover that in the silence, he had been screaming from the pain – horrible screams of pain that no one heard. Jeffrey slept little, ate little, was so restless, hypervigilant, confused angry frustrated isolated in his mind wracked with guilt sadness depression rage, panicked, desperate, hopeless, overwhelmed, rageful, wanting to talk and yet at the same time wanting to be silent. He wanted help but thought that no one could understand but even worse – especially after going to the VA twice – that no one cared. Being totally aware of stigma and fearful of being judged by those who could never understand, Jeffrey felt trapped as he slowly made his descent into his private hell.

As a family, we were also descending into our own hell – feeling totally powerless, helpless, desperate. We begged him to go to get help … to go to the VA who were the experts having dealt with this country’s veterans over a hundred years and a number of wars. Yet STIGMA prevented him from reaching out and trying to save himself – for you see, to seek help meant to him that you are weak and that was not acceptable. We were overwhelmed and then struggling with a mutated form of our own trauma due to trying to deal with the chaos and the raging storm of Jeffrey and his present world.
We were finally able to bring him to the VA only to have that fail so miserably. His experience there made him refuse to go back – feeling that he was treated as a prisoner – not as a veteran; being put on a ward with older veterans sufferring from a number of issues not similiar to his; not being seen by counselors or therapists – not being helped; feeling warehoused; not being assessed for his real issue but their simply focusing on a symptom – alcohol; ect. This should have never been.
After being turned away from the professionals, it made us doubt ourselves – were we just parents overreacting. They would never turn someone away who really was in danger – would they? It gave us a false sense of security and safety. From our perspective –  they were the angels who would embrace and help Jeffrey through all this that we did not understand. Yet they turned him away. Then no one ever called so it must be that we were thinking with a parents’ hearts and not being objective enough.
Jeffrey had so many mixed feelings – for he was expecting to be returned to Iraq. There were times that he was ready to go back to Iraq with his unit and then other times when he could not.
With all these factors and more involved, Jeffrey’s spiral continued to go downward until he crashed. Jeffrey did stop drinking the week before he died. All of us tried to get him help – Joyce called the VA and stated that we were watching our son die slowly in front of us; Jeffrey called the Vet Center and made an appointment for the following Friday which we kept. They sent us home with the idea that they would come to the house three times per week until they could find a bed. He couldn’t be as bad as we feared – could he?
When I came home from work on Monday, June 21, 2004, Jeffrey was pacing through the house in a total rage – ranting about the government, the war, the oil issue, ect.. He then spoke about suicide. I called the Vet Center not only once but twice. After talking with the staff, Jeffrey was in a better place and we had a relatively good night. About 11:30 pm, for the second time within the last ten days, Jeffrey asked me if he could sit in my lap. For the second time, I rocked him in my lap – this time for about 45 minutes. Then we walked to his room and he went to bed.
The next time I held him in my lap was the very next night, on June 22, 2004, as I lowered him from the beam and unwrapped the hose from around his neck – the first time that he looked at peace in months. He finally escaped the pain at his own hand. On June 22nd, the VA sent a notice setting up an appointment for Jeffrey who was in such a crisis for approximately three weeks later.
Few have spoken out; many have not.
It is simply not right – to allow the traumatized troops and veterans to suffer in such a tortured way and such a horrible death; for the loved ones to descend into the depths of a hell known only to a few… it is simply not right.
As many sit around their holiday tables full of festive cheer, let us hope that,  even for a brief moment, some will remember that somewhere in this nation there is a family that will have to confront the reality that the smiles, laughter and joking of the loved one / veteran /troop is now replaced by the empty chair and a trembling toast to all that was and that which could have been. and which will never be.
Kevin & Joyce Lucey, the proud parents of Cpl. Jeffrey Michael Lucey, a 23 year old USMC reservist forever succumbed to the hidden wounds of PTSD.

03/18/81 ——– 06/22/04

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