Military suicides spike during pandemic, Mayport program offers help for sailors

JACKSONVILLE, Fla. — Military suicides were up 20% in 2020 compared to 2019, according to reports from the military. Uncertainty over the past year has also increased the symptoms of post-traumatic stress disorder in veterans.

Maggie Beckerman is one of those individuals who suffers from PTSD. Her story starts in the Army, where she served in the same unit in Georgia as her husband.

“Michael and I were both very driven,” she said. They were both deployed to Afghanistan in 2010, but the couple didn’t return home the same.

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Beckerman said they moved a lot during deployment, pushed through several attacks, and hit many obstacles.

“We lost over 60 of our guys and females,” Beckerman said.

One of the 60 was her husband, Michael, who was killed in combat.

“You don’t expect your spouse to be killed,” she told Action News Jax’s Robert Grant while in the company of her service dog, Guntëur. Beckerman’s confidence as a dog owner actually started at Mayport’s Fleet and Family Support Center.

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The facility is located on base and offers free counseling services to sailors and their families along with mental health resources.

“They’re helping me to talk it out. To say that this is OK. This too will pass and we’re going to get through this together,” Beckerman said.

In 2013, suicide was the tenth leading cause of death. The Navy noticed the startling uptick and implemented a program in 2016 specific to active duty sailors called SAIL, an acronym for Sailor Assistance and Intercept for Life.

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“We just show that we care and sometimes that’s all people need,” said Dana Burnette, a counselor at the center.

The program uses tools to assess risk for suicide and develop a safety plan.

The Fleet and Family Support Center is what got Beckerman back on her feet and back to her mission of serving. She’s now helping other veterans train service dogs as the president of K9 Line, the same organization she got Guntëur.

“The quality of life they’ve given me — I don’t think they’ll ever understand,” she said.

A military crisis line is available 24/7. You can call 1-800-273-TALK (8255). A list of Fleet & Family Support programs can be found here ➡️ Fleet and Family Support Programs (904) 542-5745 (navy.mil).