Juoly 24, 2015
Valdosta, GA - It was fireworks that sparked Mike Kreft's PTSD attack. The 27 year-old Army veteran killed himself on the fourth of July.
His brother says Mike battled Post Traumatic Stress Disorder since 2012 and sought help from the VA Clinic in Valdosta. But his family says on at least one occasion, the clinic told Kreft they could not treat him same-day.
"We can't just put our soldiers to the side. Without them, we wouldn't have what we have over here", says Jon Kreft.
Mike Randall treats Vets with PTSD. He says, he hears this story all too often. "15 a week now. It's got to stop. We know how to stop it, but we need the public's help."
Randall says changes need to be made, starting at the top with lawmakers in Washington.
We asked Congressman Austin Scott, of the House Armed Services Commitee, what is being done in our nation's capitol.
"We are passing legislation and putting more money in to the issue of PTSD", Scott says.
Last February, President Obama signed the Veteran Suicide Prevention Bill in to law. The law encourages both the VA and non-profits, to share information on suicide prevention. But after last summer's shake-up exposed months-long wait times at the VA, Congressman Austin Scott says it might be time to consider more support in the private sector.
"That's certainly a direction that Congress has moved in the past. and is a direction, I think, they're willing to move even further, if the situations are not resolved in a very timely manner at the VA", Scott goes on to say.
While nothing can bring Mike Kreft back, Jon says he hopes his brother did not die in vain.
"I hate that my brother had to go the way he did, but if it brings awareness, and can prevent others from going through this experience, then I think it's a blessing in disguise."
The Malcom Randall Veterans Affairs Hospital, which operates the VA clinic in Valdosta, says due to HIPPA laws, they cannot comment on the allegations.
The Department of Defense says last year 475 members of our nation's military took their own lives.
July 10, 2015
Valdosta, GA - Hundreds of people filled the Valdosta State University Basketball stadium Friday morning to pay their respects to U.S. Army Veteran, Mike Kreft. Kreft took his life on the Fourth of July after fireworks triggered a PTSD attack.
Loved ones reflected on Kreft's memory.
"It definitely touched my heart to see how many people my brother had touched in his life. I didn't get to spend much time with my brother, but I know that everywhere he went, he was loved and adored by everyone," says Mike's brother, Jon.
Lots of laughter and lots of tears filled the stadium as loved ones described Mike the military man, Mike the friend, and Mike the brother.
Kreft's Squad Leader, Andrew Larrison says, "He was an amazing soldier; the essence of what every leader, and what the Army wants to see in a soldier, it was Mike. He was just fearless. I think that's why so many people adored him."
"It only took one time to meet him and you would remember him", says Jack Bradley, Mike's friend. "You might not remember his name, but you remembered the personality. When he was there, you knew that things were going to be alright, in any facet of the term. It was really an unbelievable thing to be a part of."
"Just the smile that he put on your face when he walked through the door, cause you knew when he entered the room, some fun stuff, some crazy stuff, and some stuff that you've never seen before was going to happen. It was always a good time with him," continues Jon.
Family, friends, and local Veterans Groups are working together to raise awareness about PTSD and its triggers, such as fireworks.
July 8, 2015 6 pm
Valdosta, GA - On July 4th, Jon Kreft says he and his brother Mike were in a bar playing pool, when Mike, an Army Combat veteran, began hearing fireworks.
"I was walking behind him, and every time a firework would go off, he was covering his ears and he would jump and flinch," says Jon. "Then he just started crying and started running down the road."
He followed Mike home. He knew his brother's PTSD had been triggered by the fireworks. He was going to play music to soothe him.
"He went to the bedroom, and right when I was about to get the play button going, I look up, and he looks at me and says I love you."
The 27 year-old shot and killed himself.
Jon says Mike asked friends and family not to light fireworks on the 4th of July holiday, knowing it was one of his PTSD triggers. However, the message wasn't relayed to his unsuspecting neighbors.
"You do things that you don't want to do. You see things you don't want to see, that your brain's not ready for, and you bring it home with you", says Mike Randall, with Hopes and Dreams Riding Facility. He treats vets with PTSD.
Randall says when PTSD is triggered, loved ones should intervene, try to calm them, and call for help. His friends say while it was a daily struggle for Mike, the man they lovingly referred to as "spartan" lived each day to the fullest.
"I know that he wouldn't want us to be sad about it, because I know that he's in a better place, and I know there's a reason for everything that happens", says Jack Bradley.
Another friend, Scott Crawford, adds, "He would have lived life to the fullest and wouldn't let anyone bring him down. He would do what he wants to do."
A GoFundMe account has been set up for Mike Kreft's final expenses. You can find that page at gofundme.com/mike_kreft.
Mike's friends have arranged for a memorial at the VSU P.E. Complex at 10 am on Friday. The public is welcome to attend. The dress is casual.
If you'd like to learn how you can help veterans in your community, visit MakeTheConnection.net.
Veterans in crisis are encouraged to call the Veterans Crisis Hotline at 1-800-273-8255.