Marine, who once planned her own suicide, now helps other veterans – NBC Los Angeles

Statistics show that the suicide rate among Los Angeles veterans is more than double that of civilians.

Now a new program aims to find out why and what red flags might be spotted before it’s too late.

“In 30 days, at some point in my life, I attended 6 funerals, said Juan Sanabria, one of the counselors involved with the Veterans Suicide Review Team – a new program that kicked off Thursday in LA County.

Sanabria is alive today, having survived the horrors of war and the horrors of being home years later.

“Shortly after 9/11, my inner patriot said something had happened to my country and I had to defend it,” he explained, “and I joined the Marine Corps.”

Sanabria was in Fallujah and so many other places, fighting alongside men and women who became his closest friends – almost like family.

Ten years later, he was out of the army, home and feeling useless.

“It all started to spin when I got a phone call saying my brother, William Donhart, had committed suicide,” Sanabria said. “He was my driver on my deployments and was an amazing soul. That started my spiral.”

It’s a spiral that he thinks could have been a red flag today, and that red flag could have saved him before his lowest point appeared.

“In a fit of rage, I ransacked my mother’s house looking for my gun,” he said.

Sanabria told NBC4 that at that time he had a plan and had the means to carry it out.

“I just couldn’t make it, and my mom wouldn’t give it to me, and I’m yelling at this woman who gave birth to me, and I’m saying horrible things…I just wanted to get it over with,” he said.

According to Jim Zenner, Director of Military Veterans Affairs in LA County, veterans who die by suicide have been let down by the current system designed to support them.

“It’s the ultimate sign that we haven’t done our job as social service providers, in my opinion,” Zenner said.

That’s why Zenner, also a veteran, helped create the Veteran Suicide Review Team pilot program.

The program aims to collect data over the next year to understand why veterans in Los Angeles are two to four times more likely to die by suicide than a civilian.

They also want to understand why the number of veteran suicides increased by 16% from 2017 to 2018 – the last count they recorded.

“When someone commits suicide, it means they see no other way out,” Zenner said.

As a counselor, Sanabria hopes to contribute to the program by using her own suicide attempt as an example that could help other military veterans open up, gather information to understand the “why” before a coffin draped in a flag rolls over the cemetery.

“Hoping to find where the failing points are and why we let our veterans down,” Sanabria said.

If you or someone you know needs help, please contact the National Suicide Prevention Hotline on 988, or contact the Crisis Text Line by texting “Home” to 741741, anytime.

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