‘There is hope and meaning moving forward’: Sister becomes advocate after brother’s suicide at VA

Justin Miller at wedding of Alissa Harrington

In the 18 months since her younger brother killed himself in the parking lot of a Department of Veterans Affairs hospital, Alissa Harrington has joined a support network, passed the bar exam, become an advocate for veteran suicide prevention and continued to share his story.

By NIKKI WENTLING | STARS AND STRIPES
Originally published: October 4, 2019

WASHINGTON — In the 18 months since her younger brother killed himself in the parking lot of a Department of Veterans Affairs hospital, Alissa Harrington has joined a support network, passed the bar exam, become an advocate for veteran suicide prevention and continued to share his story.

Justin Miller at Alissa Harrington wedding
Justin Miller with his older sister, Alissa Harrington, at her wedding Jan. 27, 2007. Following Miller’s suicide in February, Harrington is speaking out, trying to spur improvements to veteran suicide prevention. Photo: Chris Harrington.

On Saturday, she’ll share that story again at an event recognizing the first-ever Veterans Suicide Prevention & Awareness Day in Minnesota – an annual statewide observation. Harrington, by appealing to the Minnesota legislature and testifying about her brother, helped create Veterans Suicide Prevention & Awareness Day with a bill that passed in March. Harrington, her husband and father were on the floor of the legislature when representatives voted unanimously in favor of it.

“It was very emotional for me,” she said of testifying. “To be there as a witness to my brother’s story and to so many veterans’ stories was very powerful. I felt like I had a lot of responsibility to get my point across.”

Harrington’s brother, Justin Miller, was a Marine Corps veteran who deployed to Iraq in 2005. He went to the emergency room at the Minneapolis Department of Veterans Affairs in February 2018, struggling with suicidal thoughts. After spending four days at an inpatient mental health unit, Miller, 33, was discharged, went to his car and shot himself. Police found his body the following day, his phone full of voicemails and texts from his father, Greg Miller, with one message sent over and over again: “I love you. We love you. Come home.”