GENEVA – The statistics are staggering: suicides for active duty military are up 10% for the National Guard, 20% in the Air Force and 30% in the Army.
Zoeie Kreiner of St. Charles decided to do something about it.
A mother to seven children herself – ages 31 to 18 – one is deployed in the military and one is a first-responder, she launched a charity in July called Support Over Stigma. Its goal is to aid military and first responders who have post traumatic stress disorder that can lead to suicide.
She presented her cause at the Geneva City Council meeting Oct. 5.
“In World War I, it was called shell shock. In World War II, they called it combat stress reaction or combat fatigue,” Kreiner said. “Now, over 100 years later, we’re calling it PTSD, but we’re not much closer to getting help for those who suffer with it. That is why I founded a nonprofit called Support Over Stigma.”
She described a young Marine Corps veteran home for two months who took his own life after losing his battle with PTSD.
“Everyone said, ‘We didn’t have a clue,’” about his state of mind, Kreiner said.
Kreiner said police and medical first responders also suffer PTSD when they respond and cannot un-see scenes of horror and suffering.
“A 27-year-old firefighter from Hinsdale took her life as well. Same story. No one had a clue,” Kreiner said.
She listed the symptoms of post traumatic stress disorder: flashbacks and nightmares, poor judgment, lack of feelings, insomnia, isolation, self-destruction, anger that rages, hyper-vigilance and survivor guilt.
Kreiner said the charity’s first goal is to work with active duty veterans, veterans, first responders, and their families, who are battling post-traumatic stress disorder by removing the stigma from seeking help.
“We offer the resources and tools needed to get them started down the road of recovery and by educating the public to the struggles that someone with PTSD goes through on a daily basis,” Kreiner said. “PTSD does not just affect the person who has it. It affects everyone in their sphere of influence.”
Kreiner said most people have heard that veteran suicide is at a rate of 22 a day.
But active duty suicides are high as well, she said.
“The Marines and the Navy numbers are so high they won’t even release them or talk about them,” Kreiner said.
One of the ways she was spurred into action was a call from her son, who is on active duty assigned to NATO, who told her of a buddy who never got any mail.
“He came right into the Air Force out of the foster care system,” Kreiner said.
Her son told her, “There’s literally no one to write this kid. Can you just drop him a note?”
“I sent my kid a box and I sent the kid a box,” Kreiner said. “He called me once the boxes got there and he said, ‘Mom, there is a 275-pound, six-foot-four man sitting on his bed sobbing like a little boy because somebody thought to send him a package.”
Goal: 1,000 boxes to troops
The nonprofit’s goal is to send 1,000 boxes of care packages to deployed troops, especially in the base where there’s higher numbers of suicides, Kreiner said.
Items needed for the boxes include deodorant, toothbrushes and toothpaste, packaged snack crackers, individual packages of hot cocoa and tea bags, foot powder, beef jerky, freeze-dried fruit and disposable razors among them, according to a list on the charity's website www.supportoverstigma.org.
She's also hoping to deliver 1,300 stockings for veterans in VA homes and nursing homes, and make Secret Santa stops to first-responders, she said.
“Because PTSD is on the rise there as well at Christmas time,” Kreiner said. “With a mission this big, we have to count on the generosity of our fiends and neighbors.”
The website has a list of items that are needed, the opportunity to sponsor an individual box, and a button to donate cash to help pay for shipping costs, which is $20 per box, and an Amazon wish list where donors can have requested items shipped directly to her house, she said.
Kreiner said she was also hoping to have handwritten notes to put in every box – either from a child or an adult.
Starting this charity is a new career for Kreiner, who used to run the front half of a big box store – the food court and customer service – until she had a stroke 18 months ago.
“I’m very blessed,” Kreiner said.
• The National Suicide Prevention Lifeline - 800-273-8255
Drop off points for care package donations:
• Coldwell Banker, 415 E State St., Suite A, Geneva
• Hawk Ford of St. Charles, 2525 E Main St, St. Charles