Preventing suicides in the military
The death of Kim Ruocco's husband led her to try to put a stop to others.
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Ruocco recounts the next weeks with heartbreaking precision. In early February 2005, the family called John, a longtime New England Patriots fan, to celebrate the team's win in the Super Bowl. He hadn't watched the game, he said. Kim asked him outright if he was thinking of killing himself. He said he would never do that, not to her and their two boys.Skip to next paragraph
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Desperate, Kim took a red-eye flight to California, where John was deployed. The next day, two members of John's squadron found him dead in his hotel room. He had been scheduled to come home that Thursday.
"I was in a fog for those first two years," Ruocco says. Suicide is like a jigsaw puzzle whose pieces have been scattered, she says. "Some pieces will never be found."
Today, Ruocco raises her two sons and handles her work with gentle humor and resolve. By noon on a warm late summer Sunday, she had spent hours on the phone with three survivors who had called TAPS in the wake of suicides. Later that month she flew to a speaking engagement at Fort Hood, Texas.
Ruocco has also achieved success in numerous private, sensitive conversations with individual soldiers. She was able to help a pilot through a situation quite similar to her husband's, she says.
Mary Gallagher met Ruocco after her own husband, Marine Corps Gunnery Sgt. James F. Gallagher, took his life in 2006, after serving in Iraq.
"I felt alone until Kim and TAPS came into my life," Mrs. Gallagher says. "Never in a million years would I have been able to do what I do now without her." Gallagher now serves as a mentor to suicide survivors and works for Hope for the Warriors, a nonprofit group committed to assisting wounded veterans.
Advocating for suicide prevention in the military has been a challenge, Ruocco says. She remembers a sergeant telling her, after one of her first presentations about suicide prevention, "I know my men better than you, ma'am."
Traditionally, military culture attaches a stigma of weakness to those harboring suicidal thoughts. Until that is changed, it will stand as a barrier to service personnel getting needed counseling, Ruocco says. Both she and Gallagher say they believe their husbands feared their careers would have been damaged had they sought help.
Ruocco has collaborated with the MCSPP to produce an innovative video that offers accounts from suicide survivors. "In my opinion, the insight of survivors is absolutely critical to the success of suicide prevention in the armed forces," Werbel says.
"Survivors are detectives," Ruocco adds. "My husband had excellent performance reviews. But if you ask me and his family, we can set the scene for you." r