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Suicide in Austin VA waiting room may impact others suffering from PTSD

Austin VA Clinic
Posted at 5:34 PM, Apr 11, 2019
and last updated 2019-04-11 19:14:04-04

WACO, TX — A Veterans Affairs clinic in Austin has reopened following a tragic incident.

On Tuesday, the Austin Outpatient Clinic shut down after a man committed suicide in its waiting room.

Witnesses say hundreds of people saw the man shoot himself.

Weapons are not allowed in the VA, but the facility relies on random bag searches rather than metal detectors to enforce this policy.

Health officials estimate one in every five veterans who served in Iraq or Afghanistan suffers from PTSD. For Vietnam vets, it's one in three.

Laura Abbruzzese is a licensed professional counselor in Waco. She specializes in first responder PTSD and trauma.

She was upset to hear what happened to this man who felt like he had no other options.

"It's just one traumatic thing after another that just gets piled up and pretty soon it becomes too much," Abbruzzese said. "Police officer, military, firefighter, paramedic, whatever it is. No matter how good at your job you might be, we're still human and there's a limit to what you can be exposed to day in and day out before there's a problem."

Abbruzzese said there can be daily triggers, like a sound of even a smell, that affect people with PTSD. She said this event is another trauma in itself.

"That incident, on its own, is tragic for the one person," Abbruzzese said. "But then for all the people who witnessed it, whether or not they were already suffering from PTSD, there is the risk of developing it from witnessing something like that."

Abbruzzese said the definition of PTSD was very narrow in the beginning, but that's changed over the years.

"You had to be in a situation where your life was at risk," Abbruzzese said. "But it's been broadened to include things like witnessing accidents, witnessing the loss of life."

Deborah Meyer is a public affairs officer with the Central Texas Veterans Health Care System that covers Austin, Temple and Waco.

She said none of their professionals were available to be interviewed since the majority of their staff has been sent to Austin to help where they can.

Meyer released this statement on Thursday, saying:

"We will continue offering crisis therapy counseling at the Austin OPC, and we encourage employees and Veterans who may need to talk to someone about this event to seek help. The Austin VA Vet Center is partnering with us to offer counseling at their location: 2015 S. IH 35, Suite 101, in Austin (Phone: 512-416-1314). A Mobile Vet Center (MVC) is currently en route to the Austin OPC to help supplement our counseling efforts."

Meyer said any veteran, family member or friend concerned about a veteran’s mental health to contact the Veterans Crisis Line at 1-800-273-8255 and press 1 or text 838255.

Trained professionals are also available to chat online. The lines are available 24 hours a day, 7 days a week.

The Veteans One Stop in Waco also offers counseling and other services to veterans.