DETROIT – The family of a 20-year-old woman who died by suicide while serving in the Marines is sharing the story in hopes it will raise awareness about PTSD and military suicides.
Anne Vassas’ family said she was a beautiful person battling some ugly issues. They shared the story of these private and painful moments with Local 4 to try to remove the stigma surrounding PTSD.
Bob and Jan Vassas, and their son, Bobby, said they found out about their daughter’s death just like it happens in the movies.
“The doorbell rang,” Bob Vassas said. “There were two Marines at the front door. Right away, we thought something was wrong.”
The Marines told the Vassas family that their daughter, Cpl. Anne Vassas, would never come home.
“I’ll never see that smile," Bob Vassas said. “I’ll never get that hug. That’s the most difficult.”
Anne Vassas was found in her barracks while serving in Japan. She took her own life, her parents said. They didn’t see a single warning sign.
“We spoke with her a week before for an hour and a half,” Bob Vassas said. “We had a great conversation.”
But Anne Vassas was quietly fighting her own battles. After suffering some very serious injuries at boot camp, she was diagnosed with PTSD and depression. Her parents said she was diagnosed by a private clinician, not someone in the military.
“She was worried about the consequences of opening up too much,” Jan Vassas said. “She was worried about being discharged.”
Nearly a month after she passed, her body returned home.
“I was hoping they ID’d the wrong person,” Bobby Vassas said.
Anne Vassas would have turned 21 years old this month. In high school she had a lot of friends, was incredibly involved and constantly smiled, her parents said.
In the Marines, her friends said she acted like a mother, always trying to take care of everyone.
Now her parents are left to ask why she took her own life.
“That’s the question that’s going to haunt me for the rest of my life,” Bob Vassas said. “Why? We’ll never get an answer.”
In 2018, 57 Marines, 68 sailors, 58 airmen and 138 soldiers -- for a total of 321 active duty members of the military -- took their own lives, according to the U.S. Military. It was the highest number of suicides in at least six years, officials said.
“Until this happened, I didn’t know it was so prevalent in the military,” Bob Vassas said. “In talking with Anne, through the letters, there was no sign.”
At Anne Vassas’ funeral the reality was still hard to face. Family members wonder if there’s something they could have said or done.
“It’s always going to be there,” Bobby Vassas said. “We can’t deny that.”
The Vassas family is determined to turn her death into a catalyst for change. Her depression and PTSD were being treated, but they weren’t issues she talked about. Her family believes that is the first problem to tackle.
“I think we fix it with education and awareness,” Bob Vassas said. “That is one thing that we are really hoping happens -- that people see this, think about it, pick up their phone, call somebody -- whether for them or for the person they’re calling.”
Local 4 is focusing on mental health and educating the public on help available. Click here to visit CLickOnDetroit’s special section with phone numbers and resources.