GARDINER, Maine (WABI) - Suicide prevention is a top priority for the Veterans Administration.
Their goal is not necessarily getting every veteran enrolled in VA care, but rather equipping families and communities with resources to help military members in times of mental health crisis.
Joy Hollowell sat down with a mother in Gardiner who lost her veteran son to suicide.
"Dustin came home, it was actually 9-11, 2001. He was 12 or 13 years old, and he's like- I want to join the Marines."
Linda Lajoie thought her son would grow out of that phase, but he didn't.
"He actually joined his senior year," says Lajoie with a smile. "He did the early entry program."
Two years after enlisting in the Air Force, Dustin was sent to Afghanistan. He was a part of the Explosives Ordinance Division (EOD). Dustin spent six and a half years on active duty. When he returned home, Lajoie thought everything seemed fine.
"But about six months after he returned, just out of the blue, he told his wife he wanted a divorce," says Lajoie. "He talked about missiles almost constantly, on a daily basis. And I started noticing more and more when he drank, he would get moody."
One night, Linda tried talking to her son about his struggles.
"He did say to me that night- you don't understand."
A couple of months later, Lajoie arrived home to find Dustin with his bags packed.
"He says-I'm leaving, I'm going to Florida."
Lajoie begged Dustin to wait until he'd given his two week notice at work.
"His last words to me were-it's not going to happen, and he slammed the door."
That following December, Linda received a phone call from her other son, Adam. He told her Dustin was missing.
"He didn't tell me that he had left with nothing but a hoodie, sneakers, and his hand gun," says Lajoie in a quiet voice.
Five days later, Dustin's body was found. He had taken his own life.
"I immediately just shut that out and spent the next pretty much five days just being angry at him," says Lajoie. "I was even in total denial that he would do something like that- no, not my child. My child wouldn't do that."
Lajoie learned her son's story was not unique. Current statistics show a veteran dies by suicide every 65 minutes.
"I've talked with numerous veterans since, and they've opened up to me, some of them, and it really helps," says Lajoie, beginning to choke up.
"Oh my gosh," she says, catching herself and wiping away tears before going on.
"The veterans, they kind of tell me, maybe how he felt. It makes more sense when they talk to me," she says.
Lajoie says the signs of suicide are often subtle and can appear like someone just having a tough time adjusting to transition.
"Maybe I can't help Dustin, obviously at this point it's a little late for that," she says. "But maybe I can help somebody else and maybe it will help me understand someone else where I didn't understand Dustin,."
Linda Lajoie is the founder of https://www.facebook.com/themainesilhouetteproject/
The program aims to raise awareness about the suicide risk faced by veterans and to spread the word about resources available. She welcomes anyone to contact her with questions, concerns or just needing to talk about themselves or a loved one in mental crisis.
The Veteran's Administration recently launched its Coaching Into Care national telephone service, It aims to educate, support, and empower family members and friends who are seeking care or services for a Veteran. The goal is to help Veterans, their family members, and other loved ones find the appropriate services at their local VA facilities and/or in their community. For more information on that, you can log onto .
For more information on all the services available to veterans, you can log onto https://www.maine.va.gov/