the fIFTH in our series focusing on issues facing local veterans
My husband died June 16, 2014,” Pam Hunt says in a voice that reflects both pain and weariness. “We’re never going to know [what happened], which I think is part of the added frustration with losing somebody to suicide.”
According to Pam, the evening of her husband’s suicide was like any other. “When my husband went to bed he was talking about the doctor’s appointment he had the next morning,” Pam says. “He was telling me not to eat some food that was in the fridge because he wanted it for breakfast.”
Within the hour, Tim was dead.
“The bedroom door was closed, but he was sleeping, had the dogs in bed, and the television on. I was watching a movie and fell asleep on the couch not 20 feet away. I woke up to the gun shot. So at some point, he woke up, sat up on the edge of the bed and shot himself.”
The 48-year-old Minnesota transplant says she’s had two years to theorize why Tim committed suicide, and it goes back to the kind of man he was before being wounded while serving his country.
“He was the definition of physically fit. He was this massive, huge, overwhelmingly physical embodiment of a man,” Pam says with quiet pride. “Then he broke his back, had knee injuries, and developed heart failure.”
At the time of his injuries, Tim was a noncommissioned officer (NCO) in the National Guard and a leader of men. At the top of his game physically, he was regarded as a man’s man. At the time of his death, however, Tim couldn’t help his wife carry in groceries.
His physical limitations coupled with a lack of military support, may have contributed to Tim’s mental health issues. Pam speculates other important issues also led to his suicide.
“My husband served for 25 years, and we always felt a part of the community,” the Deltona resident says. “It wasn’t until the day he was injured that we both felt alone.
Pam says soldiers are practically shunned after being injured. There’s a tendency to avoid them or not look them directly in the eyes.
“The more serious the injury, the more other soldiers want to disassociate with them. They feel that could be them,” she says.
To add insult to injury, just 30 minutes after leaving the hospital following knee surgery, Tim had to sign paperwork indicating he was no longer in the U.S. Army. “It said Tim acknowledged and understood he was no longer deployable, therefore he was no longer a soldier,” Pam explains. “They refused to let him have convalescent leave unless he signed it.”
During the 13-hour trip from Fort Knox to Minneapolis, Tim talked about his frustration and anger at being “forced to pull his own pin and end his military career.” Pam says there was no other choice.
Although the Army said Tim was no longer deployable, it was up to Tim and Pam to convince the Veterans Administration (VA) that he retired for medical reasons. “Tim’s operation was in 2007 and we spent the next five years embroiled in the medical board process,” Pam says. “Tim’s official military retirement certificate reads February 13, 2013.”
Sustaining critical injuries, losing your hard-earned career, losing your sense of community are significant issues to face while recovering from serious injury. Along with constant pain, the danger of continuously taking addictive prescription drugs, and a loss of self-worth, it creates the perfect storm.
Welcome to Tim Hunt’s world at that time.
Pam is convinced her husband’s medications also contributed to his decision.
“We had an appointment the next morning to review his meds because he knew they were dangerous,” Pam says. “My personal feeling is there was something on the television or something he was dreaming that triggered some sort of attack. I don’t think he was fully awake when he shot himself.”
Pam believes many veteran suicides could be prevented by providing earlier and better intervention. “Service members are literally having their careers ended in front of them with no say, no participation. And on top of it, they have to deal with their injuries.”
That is followed by the chaos and confusion of the VA system and fighting for what should be automatic. Pam said these veterans struggle to get mental health services, and the care they receive is poor at best.
After Tim’s death, Pam’s personal mission became reducing the number of veteran suicides—22 every day—a number she thinks is conservative. She became a volunteer working with veterans’ issues including A Veterans Community, which provides safe and stable housing for vets.
One of her passions is the Spartan Pledge. Forged from scraps of metal that came from the 9/11 World Trade Center tragedy, The Spartan Sword was hammered into shape by a veteran. As veterans touch its surface, they say, “I will not take my own life by my own hand until I talk to my battle buddy first. My mission is to find a mission to help my warfighter family.”
Villagers for Veterans a local nonprofit organization is sponsoring a Spartan Weekend May 19-21, 2017, when the sword will be in this area. They invite local veterans to take part in the Spartan Pledge. Those who can’t get to the sword will place a hand on the shoulder of a veteran touching it. Pam will be a featured speaker during the event.
“I think people who have served have a very specific and engrained code of honor, morality, and integrity. When they take an oath, when they swear to something,” Pam says, “especially to a fellow service member, it has more meaning behind it.”
For more information about the Spartan Pledge, visit descendantsofsparta.com
For more information about Villagers For Veterans, visit villagersforveterans.org
For more information about A Veterans Community, visit aveteranscommunity.org
To contact Pam Hunt, email her at Pam@aveteranscommunity.org
To watch a moving testimonial about Staff Sgt Timothy Hunt’s life, visit www.youtube.com and enter: “In memory of Timothy Shawn Hunt.”