It was nearly four years ago when the article appeared.
“Daniel Wolfe Is Killing Himself Live on Facebook” by Zach Baron appeared August 24, 2015 in GQ.
Cerberus Rey Wolfe was Wolfe’s name on Facebook. Wolfe’s friends contacted the local sheriff because Wolfe had posted on FB that he wanted to hurt himself. Daniel Wolfe had returned from the Iraq war with more than PTSD; he had a traumatic brain injury.
The GQ article quotes the grim statistics — that for every active duty service member killed in combat, twenty veterans commit suicide! When the article was written, veteran suicides were running 22 per day.
The number of veterans suicides is important, not for the obvious reason — that the number s is a big number, and the suicide rate among veterans is sharply higher than the normal suicide rate, if we dare use the word “normal.” What’s more important is that veterans deserve a special place of honor, and we need to send a message that they are important, and that we care.
In other words, preventing a suicide is important because that despondent and depressed veteran may have been someone we could have helped. Many of these suicides may be the nation’s failure, and more specifically, the failure of the Veterans Administration. Some of these men and women may have imbalances that predispose them to depression, or even suicide, whether they served in the military or not, whether they were in combat or not, whether they experienced severe PTSD or not. But perhaps many others were like some of you reading this — they would not have committed suicide, absent their service to their country.
So, I refuse to quantify — in money terms –the impact of each person’s suicide. The value is incalculable, and if we need to spend more to serve our veterans, in general, and help them manage their despondency, we should do it. That’s because it’s vital we send a message of concern and compassion — that veteran’s lives matter – their quality of life, their life itself.
“A Veteran’s Suicide on Social Media: The Story of Daniel Wolfe” was another title for the article. You see, Daniel would post his despair on Facebook, along with grim photos. “The only fight I ever lost was the one to myself” Daniel wrote on FB. His friends were reading each successive post as the young man sank further into a bottomless hole. As the article notes, by the time his family and friends see his most recent posts, they were hours old.
The VA apparently refused to say whether Daniel’s brain injury was from mortars exploding in Iraq or high school football. (Maybe it was the combination.) But this veteran was in a downward spiral. He had typical PTSD symptoms like anxiety at loud noises. The article reported, “One time a bird flew overhead and [he] ducked for cover.” His memory was failing. The VA was prescribing more and more pills, and he might mix depression pills with liquor. One consequence of his PTSD was all too common — divorce –and a restraining order against him, and he violated it.
“Anyone who was friends with Daniel on Facebook could see that he wasn’t well,” read the GQ article. And after Daniel killed himself, Facebook did not immediately take down the telltale photos and posts that implied a man ready to take down his whole life. “For a brief moment,” the article observed, ” Facebook became a place where Daniel was still alive…”
Fortunately, Daniel didn’t take anyone down with him, that is, not mortally, that day. But Daniel Wolfe was a danger to himself, and perhaps others.
Daniel’s friends and family were not psychics or psychiatrists. Even if they were, they did not see Daniel’s disturbing posts in real time.
Daniel Wolfe did not die in vain. His ominous posts on Facebook are part of a fabric — words and emotions that can now be processed by artificial intelligence. Today, we have the technology to monitor the public social media posts of the Daniel Wolfes, in real time… and to produce alerts for responders to intervene.
There is a way for the nation to show, for the Veterans Administration to show, that we care. And perhaps to prevent a suicide, and maybe other bad things.