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Cost of war continues long after fighting is done

By Mike Scotti, Special to CNN
updated 11:51 AM EDT, Sat May 24, 2014
Union soldiers at Arlington House, across the Potomac River from Washington on June 28, 1864. It is the former home of Confederate Gen. Robert E. Lee. Union soldiers at Arlington House, across the Potomac River from Washington on June 28, 1864. It is the former home of Confederate Gen. Robert E. Lee.
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150 years of Arlington National Cemetery
150 years of Arlington National Cemetery
150 years of Arlington National Cemetery
150 years of Arlington National Cemetery
150 years of Arlington National Cemetery
150 years of Arlington National Cemetery
150 years of Arlington National Cemetery
150 years of Arlington National Cemetery
150 years of Arlington National Cemetery
150 years of Arlington National Cemetery
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STORY HIGHLIGHTS
  • Mike Scotti was deployed in both Iraq and Afghanistan
  • He struggled with isolation, anger and depression after coming home
  • An estimated 22 veterans commit suicide every day
  • For ways to help veterans in need, visit CNN.com/Impact

Editor's note: Mike Scotti fought in Afghanistan and Iraq as a U.S. Marine. The Florida resident is a founding board member of military-themed nonprofit Reserve Aid and is the founder of the Military Veterans Club at the NYU Stern School of Business. Scotti wrote about his struggle to reenter civilian life in "The Blue Cascade: A Memoir of Life After War." The veteran is also the subject of the award-winning documentary "Severe Clear." The opinions expressed are solely those of the author.

(CNN) -- This will be the first Memorial Day since my buddy from the Marine Corps committed suicide last June.

As the holiday draws closer, the series of text messages I received from our mutual friend on that spring day keep pushing their way into my mind.

"I'm sorry for the text, man. But I just can't do any more phone calls today."

There was a moment of silence before he continued to write that our friend "blew his brains out yesterday. The funeral is Saturday in New Jersey. That's all I know at this point. I'll give you a call tomorrow."

I remember looking out the car window at the lights of random buildings flashing by as I sat in the passenger seat on the way home from my niece's wedding. My heart pounding as the familiar sense of violent death and loss worked its way into me.

In the years since I fought in Iraq and Afghanistan, Memorial Day has always had a certain type of sting to it. It has been a day for quiet reflection and thoughts of friends who'd fallen. Men like Marine Capt. Robert M. Secher, or "Cubby," as we affectionately called him, who was killed by a sniper in Hit, Iraq in 2006.

...since I fought in Iraq and Afghanistan, Memorial Day has always had a certain type of sting to it.
-Mike Scotti, former Marine

Brothers who now, still, years later, I think of every day.

Rob, along with others I've known, fell while serving as U.S. Marines engaged in combat with an enemy who was trying to kill them.

But this year things already feel different. Because my buddy died by his own hand.

So it became clear that the cost of a war is even greater than I could imagine. Because war has such an insatiable appetite for death that it continues to kill Marines and soldiers long after they're done actively participating in it.

Iraq war vet introduces military suicide prevention bill

The day he took his own life, my friend posted a picture of himself on Facebook. The photo has since been removed, but the look in his eyes has been burned into me forever. I thought I could see a mix of sadness and anger in his eyes. And I can still feel a silent and private hopelessness.

I remembered how in my own dark time after the war -- it lasted nearly two years -- my soul felt like it had been shot to pieces by things I saw. The things I smelled. And the things I did. I recalled how life becomes somehow smaller as you systematically isolate yourself from those you love. And those who love you.

What is wars' true toll on the spouses and children?

Then there's a slide down a slope that begins with feelings of confusion, then moves along to anger and then finally, indifference. And somewhere in that dark and heavy indifference lies the point of emotional exhaustion where you find yourself standing at the edge of an abyss. Soothed by the fact that once you jump in, all feelings will end.

In a 2012 suicide data report, the Department of Veterans Affairs estimated that on average, 22 veterans a day commit suicide. The problem is so prevalent that the Iraq and Afghanistan Veterans of America (IAVA) -- which is, in my opinion, the most effective, relevant and impactful organization representing my generation of veterans -- has made combating suicide their No.1 priority for 2014.

Why suicide rate among veterans may be more than 22 a day

I believe there is a stigma within our society when it comes to seeking mental health care. As a result, I fear that many who would benefit from treatment choose to stay silent. Yet, in an IAVA survey, 77% of the veterans who responded said they "sought care when it was suggested that they do so by a friend or family member."

Opinion: Suicide on the homefront in military families

So if you know someone who may be struggling, please let him or her know that it's OK if they're not OK and there's no shame in it. Reach out to them and urge them to seek help.

Because unfortunately, as is the case 22 times each day, that person's life may depend on it.

Help for veterans and their families is available at the Veterans Crisis Line 24/7. Call 1-800-273-8255 or send a text message to 838255. You can also chat online. Another option is calling the Vet2Vet hotline: 1-877-VET2VET (838-2838).

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