Medically reviewed by Jennifer Casarella, MD
July 14, 2022
Dan Miller has parked his Nissan Altima on the side of the road near a field outside Chicago, holding a gun to his head.
Haunted for years by the compounded trauma of tours of duty in the Middle East and his work as a police officer in Chicago, at that moment, Miller saw no reason to live. And there were troubles at home with his wife and children, who had grown fearful of his behavior.
"My whole world was falling apart," he says of that dark night in 2014. "It left a hole I didn't know how to fill."
He chose not to pull the trigger after a brochure on the passenger seat of his car gave him an unexpected perspective - and launched him on a path to help others in his situation.
Had Miller taken his life that night, he would have joined thousands of other veterans who died by suicide. About 17 U.S. veterans lose their lives this way each day, on average, according to the Department of Veterans Affairs. In 2019, the last year for which records are available, 6,261 veterans took their own lives - and the suicide rate for veterans was 52% higher than for non-veterans, the agency's records show.
The problem has become so severe that the Veterans Health Administration (VHA) now uses artificial intelligence (AI) to help identify veterans at the highest risk of suicide - and reach out to them before a crisis strikes.
But that wasn't available when Dan Miller's life was unraveling.
In the years leading up to his near-suicide, his wife had pushed him to get help. "She said, 'You're not the same person you were when you left. The kids are scared of you. The pets are scared of you," he recalls.
He resisted, even when his wife threatened divorce. Rising through the ranks of the Marines, Miller had become more emotionally isolated. He feared losing his job and the respect of others if he let anyone know what he was going through.
Finally, he gave the VHA a chance. He went in for an initial consultation in 2010 and didn't find it helpful. He didn't like being told what to do. So he stopped. He turned to obsessive exercise and excessive drinking.
That day in 2014, Miller's wife told him she was taking the kids out for a playdate. After she left, he was served with divorce papers. Less than an hour later, he was parked in his car with his gun, ready to end his life.
But if it all had happened just a few years later, things might never have gotten to that point.