Veterans lost to suicide memorialized during Military Suicide Survivor Seminar

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Air Force Veteran Drew Winkler is just one face of many memorialized on a wall of servicemen and women lost to suicide.

Drew took his own life on Memorial Day 2016.

“He was a natural leader, he really had his stuff together,” Rick Winkler said of his son. “After Drew had come back from his deployment, he had changed,” Rick said.

For the family members Drew left behind, the Annual Military Suicide Survivor Seminar helps them move forward in healing. The event is in its tenth year.

“It taught me how to grieve, how to heal through grieving, and how to move through it,” Rick said.

The Tragedy Assistance Program for Survivors, or TAPS, hosted its annual event in Tampa Saturday, drawing hundreds of family members who have lost a loved one to suicide.

“It’s really critical for those who have lost a loved one to suicide to be around other people who understand that journey,” said Kim Ruocco, the TAPS Vice President of Suicide Prevention. “We try to move people from that brokenness and trauma that often results from suicide, towards post-traumatic growth.”

Carla Stumpf-Patton is one of the longer-term survivors who has been coming for years. Patton lost her husband, a Marine Corps drill instructor to suicide in 1994, while she was pregnant with their first child. She says back then, support like this did not exist.

“Twenty-four years ago, it was a very isolated, lonely experience. There wasn’t anything out there,” Patton said.

Like the Winklers, though a family member was lost, they gained another kind of family.

“Everybody [here] knows what I went through, anybody I talk to, we have a lot of similarities so we can understand each other,” said Rick. “This is family, one big family.”