Veteran suicides, VA corruption focus of rally and protest

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PINELLAS COUNTY, Fla. (WFLA)—In the United States, 22 veterans take their lives every day.  

In front of the Veterans Affairs office at Bay Pines, 22 mannequins stood to serve as a reminder of this American tragedy.

Army veteran Mike Ford admits he’s come close to ending his life.

“Idea was to just go ahead and just kill yourself on V-A property right, maybe if they see, if maybe people like, wow, there’s something really going on here,” he told News Channel 8.

Ford was diagnosed with post-traumatic stress disorder after serving in Grenada and claims he suffered physical and mental pain for years while struggling with the VA for treatment.

After waiting nine months for an appointment, Ford left his ailing father to drive across the state to finally see a doctor at the VA.

“I go there, oh you didn’t get our message, we canceled your appointment,” Ford recalled.

When Ford returned home, his father was gone.

“Wasting my time with the VA when I should’ve been with my father. He was my hero,” he said.

“If I was going to kill myself, it was going to be out here,” another veteran Keith Hansford said as he pointed to the grounds at Bay Pines.

Hansford also struggles with PTSD, and said sometimes he thinks he would welcome death. “My pain, my anxiety, my nightmares all of that will stop,” Keith explained.

According to Hansford, harassment by Bay Pines Police administration while he worked there, pushed him to the brink.

Hansford has organized rallies condemning police corruption and promoting suicide awareness.

In August, we told you VA police removed signs promoting Keith’s rally, which were placed on a state right of way.  We helped him get them back.

Hansford believes without his wife, he’d be gone.

“I’m not stronger or weaker than the ones that have killed themselves. I just had the right help at the right time,” said Keith. “The help they needed didn’t come when they needed it.”

If you think something needs to be investigated, call our Target 8 Helpline at 1 800 338-0808. Contact Steve Andrews at sandrews@wfla.com.

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