Decorated combat vet who died highlights pandemic's effect on mental health

Vet's death highlights virus' effect on mental health
Vet's death highlights virus' effect on menta... 02:46

Last Updated May 28, 2020 7:03 PM EDT

Washington — Rory Hamill was a father of three and a decorated combat veteran in the Marines. Hamill lost his life not at war — but in a growing mental health crisis that's being made worse by the deadliest public health crisis in a century. Hamill was one of many veterans who've been suffering.

"He was a hero to many people," Kristal Franciose said of her ex-husband, Marine Corporal Rory Hamill. A blast from an IED in Afghanistan in 2011 robbed him of his right leg. Hamill had a hard road home.

"A lot of the thoughts going through my head were, 'Why didn't I die?' What am I going to do now with my life?'" He told "60 Minutes" in 2015.

But in the last few years, Hamill got his life back, studying psychology and mentoring other veterans.

"So when the lockdown did happen, it stripped him from everything he knew," Franciose told CBS News. "He couldn't do his public speaking. He couldn't go to school, to his outlet away from his own mind."

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Corporal Rory Hamill, a combat-wounded Marine, stands for a portrait on Joint Base McGuire-Dix-Lakehurst, New Jersey, on December 21, 2017. U.S. Air National Guard / Master Sergeant Matt Hecht

In April, Hamill wrote about the pandemic on his Instagram, saying, "My own personal hell has been reignited." Two weeks later, Rory was nowhere to be found.

"One of his friends was actually calling me. They went and did a wellness check and that's when they found him," Franciose explained.

As the nation passed 100,000 deaths from the coronavirus, Rory Hamill's name was not on that list, but Franciose is sure that isolation contributed to his death.

"Oh, I believe it's 100% what caused it," she said.

Compared to this month last year, calls to the VA's veteran crisis line are up more than 10%.

"Our number one clinical priority now is suicide prevention," said Robert Wilkie, secretary of Veterans Affairs. "It is the fear of continued isolation in many of these cases that makes these problems compound themselves and then we see the effects."

In April, the VA made more than a million mental health phone calls and tele-appointments, as seen at a vet center in New Jersey, not far from Franciose, who hopes that by this summer, Hamill's family will be able to pay their last respects.

"We are burying him in Arlington. You know, he deserved that," she said. "So that's where we'll be putting him to rest."


If you or someone you know is in emotional distress or suicidal crisis, reach out to the Veterans Crisis Line at 1-800-273-TALK (8255).

For more information about mental health care resources and support, The National Alliance on Mental Illness (NAMI) HelpLine can be reached Monday through Friday, 10 a.m.–6 p.m. ET, at 1-800-950-NAMI (6264) or email info@nami.org.

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    Jan Crawford is CBS News Chief Legal Correspondent.