PEMBROKE PINE, Fla. (Tribune Content Agency) —- Two years after U.S. Marine Corps Lance Cpl. Janos Lutz took his own life, his mother said she remains consumed by sadness and anger over a death she now believes was preventable.
"We are failing our veterans," said Janine Lutz. "PTSD —- post-traumatic stress disorder —- is manageable. But we have to recognize it and get our veterans the help they need."
Lutz made her remarks Sunday at the second annual PTSD Awareness Ride sponsored by the foundation she started to honor her son. Lutz, called Johnny, died Jan. 12, 2013, after taking an overdose of prescription medication at the family home in Davie. He was 24.
"I'm sorry," he said in a farewell note he left on his open laptop. "I am happier now."
Just before leaden skies opened up to deliver pelting rain showers, the pictures of 211 veterans who have committed suicide were removed from the back of a hearse and pinned up for all to see. Lutz said they represented just a fraction of military veterans who have taken their lives in recent years.
"Look at their faces, their ages," Lutz said. "These are men and women who went to battle for you, who died for you. And we have failed them."
Among those taking part in the memorial ride from Davie's Western High School, Lutz's alma mater, to C.B. Smith Park were about 60 motorcyclists, including several members of the Leathernecks Motorcycle Club. All are active duty or veterans in the Marine Corps.
"I can relate," said Marine Corps Staff Sgt. Earnest Barnes, 29, of Pembroke Pines, a veteran of Afghanistan who said he knows of at least three Marines he served with who have taken their lives. "This is something that really does hit home. So we are here to support Janine and honor her son."
Riding with Barnes, who remains on active duty, were Jack Sandlin, 50, a Coral Springs resident who served from 1981 to 1993, and Jerry O'Hare, 68, of Fort Lauderdale, who saw combat in Vietnam.
"There is no cure for PTSD," said Sandlin, who has received treatment at the Veterans Affairs hospital in Miami. "You just have to adapt and adjust."
Although the Pentagon has recognized the surging suicide rate among veterans, and treatment programs are available, Lutz faults the VA for mishandling her son's treatment.
Through the Fort Lauderdale law firm of Kelley Uustal, in November she served a demand letter to the VA claiming her son was a victim of wrongful death as a result of medical negligence. The letter is a formal notice of a potential claim.
Lutz said the family warned her son's VA doctors about his escalating flashbacks and suicidal thoughts, but he was provided more and stronger medications, which he eventually used to kill himself.
"John was crying out for help to his medical team, but they ignored his cries and provided a clearly despondent man with ever more powerful drugs," Bonnie Navin and Robert Kelley, attorneys with Kelley Uustal, said in a statement. "He was clearly in crisis and needed hospitalization. We all lost a hero that day."
Through the LCpl. Janos V. Lutz Live To Tell foundation, Lutz said she would like to form a national network of "Buddy Up" chapters where military veterans returning from deployment or leaving active duty could find a fellow veteran to talk to.
So far, she has a 67-member Broward County chapter, which she started, but no others.
But Lutz did recruit an ally Sunday in Jill Tahmooressi, the Weston mother whose son, Marine Corps Sgt. Andrew Tahmooressi, 26, was suffering from PTSD when he was jailed in Mexico after crossing the border with weapons in his truck. He is a veteran of two tours in Afghanistan.
Released in November after being held for seven months, Andrew Tahmooressi has returned to Daytona Beach, where he had previously received treatment for PTSD. He is doing well, said his mother.
"I am going to talk to Andrew about starting a ["Buddy Up"] chapter in Volusia County," said Jill Tahmooressi, who met Lutz for the first time Sunday.