Crestview family spreads awareness of PTSD after loss of son

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CRESTVIEW, Fla. -- (WECP/WJHG) Just over three weeks ago on Memorial Day, Iraq War Veteran Drew Winkler sat in a car outside his parents house and used a gun to take his own life. His parents are now telling his story, in hopes no other family has to go through the same pain.

Drew Winkler's parents read aloud their son's final message before the 26 year-old Iraq War veteran committed suicide on Memorial Day. It's a message they've turned into a mission.

The airman had been suffering from severe PTSD since before 2011, when he was discharged from the military. His mother, Rebecca, says the son who returned from war wasn't the one she sent off.

"After coming back, he was very anxious about everything, uneasy about everything, just always on edge," Rebecca said.

Many things would frighten him, she said, like loud noises, driving, crowds, even something as small as dropping a spoon off a table.

"There were times after he came back that I looked at my husband and I said, I don't know who this person is, this is not my son. I didn't know who he was," Rebecca said. "That free-spirited child that I sent off to the military was gone, and there was nothing anybody was doing to help him."

Drew sought help from two Veterans Affairs clinics. Their solution, according to his parents, was to keep changing his medications.

"Their solution was well you can take a Xanax," Rebecca said,

Though he had to rely on the VA, he was denied disability benefits twice. Once because of a forgotten signature, and the other because his symptoms didn't meet the criteria for a PTSD diagnosis.

Rebecca says there were times the VA couldn't accommodate his schedule for future counseling sessions within a three-week time frame. We reached out to the Veteran Affairs clinic where Drew was seen. they said due to HIPAA Law, they couldn't provide any details regarding his treatment.

"They absolutely failed my son, and his children," Rebecca and Drew's father, Rick said.

Drew left behind four year old Christian and 19 month-old Caydan. Rick and Rebecca says they now have dog tag necklaces they wear to remind their grandsons of their father.

"Drew was an excellent father," Rick said. "Every minute he was off he was with his kids. I just wish he would have squeezed my hand instead of my gun."

As the Winkler family sat in their living room, their son's ashes in hand, they've decided to channel their grief into purpose. They hope spreading Drew's story brings awareness to veteran suicide, and the problems with the VA.

"Twenty-two people a day kill themselves out of PTSD? If I can bring that number down to 21 next year, Then the next year I'm going to shoot for 20," Rick said.

WECP-WJHG has reached out to the Veteran's Affairs Office to find out more about Drew's disability claims. As Wednesday, June 22, we have not heard back from the VA, but will follow-up if we do.