Program aims to help veterans affected by suicide

By Michelle Martin | Staff writer
Wednesday, April 25, 2018

Eileen Hurn knows all too well how veterans are affected by suicide.

Hurn’s husband, Brian, died by suicide in October 2013. He was a veteran, a Navy corpsman in the peacetime Navy of the late 1970s, working as a paramedic when he died. In a column she wrote for the Obelisk, the newsletter of the Loving Outreach of Survivors of Suicide, she said he was one of 22 veterans to die from suicide that day.

LOSS is a program of Catholic Charities of the Archdiocese of Chicago that offers support groups for those who have lost loved ones to suicide.

Hurn works with veterans as a polytrauma clinical nurse educator at Hines VA Hospital, and said it’s rare she meets a patient who hasn’t had at least one “battle buddy” commit suicide. For most, it’s more than one; for one, it was 15.

“I know that because I ask them,” she said. “And then they tell me their names, and tell me their stories.”

The friendships people develop in the military are lifelong, Hurn said, and closer than most civilian friendships.

“They maintain that brotherhood or sisterhood when they come home,” she said.

That’s why Hurn, who turned to LOSS to help her heal after her husband’s death, pushed for the creation of a LOSS group at Hines. Hurn had already become a facilitator for a general LOSS group, and is functioning in the same capacity for the Hines group.

LOSS runs monthly support groups for anyone, as well as special focus groups, such as those for people grieving the suicide of a spouse or sibling. There are also weekly groups for the newly bereaved.

Deborah Major, the LOSS program director, said she had already reached out to the staff at Hines to let them know there was a LOSS group that met only a short distance away, but no one from Hines ever came.

But Major said she wasn’t too surprised at how few veterans take advantage of LOSS programs.

“We don’t get cops in our groups, we don’t get firefighters in our groups, and we usually don’t get veterans,” she said. “I think I can count on one hand the number of veterans we’ve had.” 

That’s because first-responders often have so much of their identity wrapped up in being helpers that they don’t know how to recognize that they need help.

“It’s really an identity shift,” she said. “When you identify yourself as the giver of help, you wonder, ‘Who is this person who can’t get it together to go rush in and save people?’ They need to understand that it’s not that they’re weak. It’s that this is really, really hard.”

Having a group that is only veterans could make them more comfortable sharing their experiences and emotions, Hurn said.

Nobody came to the first scheduled LOSS meeting at Hines, but she was hopeful that some would come for the second one, she said.

The group has the support of the suicide prevention staff at Hines, because helping people cope with the suicide of a friend or family member can help prevent further suicides.

“If someone has a battle buddy who has died, that puts them at higher risk,” Hurn said.

Major said that it might take time for the veterans to accept the group.

“We need somebody on the inside of that system to legitimize the need to get help for this kind of trauma,” she said. “This isn’t something you get over. It’s something you learn to walk with.”

For more on the LOSS program, visit


  • catholic charities
  • suicide

Related Articles