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Witness Testimony of Ilona Meagher, Author, <i>Moving a Nation to Care: Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder and America's Returning Troops</i>, Caledonia, IL

Opening Statement

Chairman Filner, Ranking Member Buyer, and other distinguished members of the Committee, I thank you for the opportunity to appear before you today.

To open, I’d like to briefly share my thoughts on why it is that I believe I’m here. 

I am not only someone who’s spent the past two years researching and writing about post-traumatic stress in our returning troops, I’m also a veteran’s daughter. My father was born in Hungary, served two years in antitank artillery as a Hungarian Army conscript, fought against the Soviet Union on the streets of Budapest during the 1956 Hungarian Revolution, and later fled to America where, in 1958, he again became a soldier, this time wearing a United States Army uniform, and serving as a combat engineer stationed in Germany.

My father’s unique experience of having served on both sides – East and West – in such differing armies during the Cold War, gave him a unique perspective on military life.

And so, growing up, my sisters and I often heard my father say, “You can always tell how a government feels about its people by looking at how it treats its soldiers.”

Looking at our returning soldiers and their widely-reported struggles with the military and VA health care systems they rely on, of being stigmatized from seeking care or of being placed on lengthy VA waiting lists when they need immediate help – some even committing suicide before their appointment dates arrive – have raised this citizen’s alarm bells.

We have had a “see no evil, hear no evil” approach to examining post-deployment psychological reintegration issues such as suicide. After all we have learned from the struggles of the Vietnam War generation – and the ensuing controversy over how many of its veterans did or did not commit suicide in its wake – why is there today no known national registry where Afghanistan and Iraq veteran suicide data is being collected? How can we ascertain reintegration problems – if any exist – if we are not proactive in seeking them out? 

As late as May 2007, Department of Veterans Affairs spokeswoman Karen Fedele told the Washington Post that there was no attempt to gather Afghanistan and Iraq veteran suicide incidents. "We don't keep that data,” she said. “I'm told that somebody here is going to do an analysis, but there just is nothing right now." [i]

Meanwhile, the Army reported its suicide rate in 2006 rose to 17.3 per 100,000 troops, the highest in 26 years of keeping such records. At long last, the Associated Press revealed that the VA is finally conducting preliminary research. They’ve tracked at least 283 OEF/OIF  veteran suicides through the end of 2005, nearly double the rate of the additional 147 suicides reported by the DoD’s Defense Manpower Data Center.

Looking only at the these suicide figures from the VA (283) and the DoD (147), there have been at least 430 Afghanistan and Iraq veteran suicides that have occurred either in the combat zone or stateside following combat deployment. Lost in the VA and DoD counts are those veterans who have returned from their deployments, are still in the military and not yet in the VA system. The DoD says they do not track those incidents, and I assume neither does the VA because these veterans are not yet on their radar.

Yet even with this omission, many of these 430 confirmed suicides are a result of our wars in Afghanistan and Iraq and should – but won’t – be listed with the DoD’s official OEF/OIF death toll of 4,351. It bears mentioning: Currently 10 percent of the overall fatal casualty count of these wars is due to suicide.

Dismissing the issue of veteran suicide in the face of this data is negligent and does nothing to honor the service and sacrifice of our veterans and the families and communities that literally are tasked with supporting them once they return.

Yet, prior to last month’s CBS News investigation, which revealed that 120 veterans of all wars committed suicide every week in 2005 and that 20-24 year old Afghanistan and Iraq veterans are two to four times more likely to commit suicide than their civilian counterparts, the scope of the problem has been largely unknown because no one with proper resources and access to do the compiling of data came forward to do so.

In my written testimony, I’ve included 75 suicides that I and other citizen journalist colleagues have been tracking since September 2005 and which today reside in the ePluribus Media PTSD Timeline.

Offering only a small and incomplete sliver of insight into how some of our returning troops are faring on the home front – especially in light of the fact that at least another 355 incidents could be added among them according the the VA and DoD – I believe that they collectively tell an even greater tale about the failure of us as individuals and as a society to ensure that our returning warriors are cleansed completely from the psychological wounds of war.

They also reflect the failure of our government institutions to protect those who protect us.

While I realize that these distressing stories are the exception and not the rule, to our exceptional military families having to deal with the deterioration of a loved one they thought had safely returned from combat, they are the rule. In 1956, the same year that my parents fled to this incredible country, the 84th Congress – in the very House that we sit in today – had this to say in a presidential commission report on veterans’ benefits:

“The Government's obligation is to help veterans overcome special, significant handicaps incurred as a consequence of their military service.  The objective should be to return veterans as nearly as possible to the status they would have achieved had they not been in military service… and maintaining them and their survivors in circumstances as favorable as those of the rest of the people. … War sacrifices should be distributed as equally as possible within our society.  This is the basic function of our veterans' programs.” [ii] 

I am not a pedigreed expert or a government official seasoned in testifying before you, but those who are from the GAO and the Congressional Research Department and even the Veterans Administration itself, have sat in this very seat over the years and told you we are falling far short in providing the resources and programs our returning troops and military families need to successfully return to their personal lives following their service to the nation. 

To those who resist hearing the cold hard truth of where we are today, I’d like to say: The time is here to stop fighting the data, and to start fighting for our troops.

This is America. We can do better.  We must do better.

Suggestions to ease the veteran suicide problem:

  • Offer all returning veterans immediate compensation and treatment support the first six months after their return home. Fostering positive coping skills (vs. negative coping skills of self-medication or domestic violence) must be a key goal of our veterans’ reintegration programs; veterans forced to wait at least six months for VA compensation and treatment benefits to kick in do not feel supported, they feel under siege.
  • Increase 21st century asymmetrical warfare and psychological injury understanding and preparation. The DOD should continue to make adjustments in its training to give service members the tools they need to counter the modern battlefield’s unique stressors.The Psychological Kevlar Act of 2007 would push the DoD to provide proactive psychological training for veterans from boot camp onward; more need to sign on to this legislation and it should be passed into law.
  • Force the DOD and VA do a better job of communicating with veterans on their rights and resources, and making outside community-based resources known to them as well. Many vets are unsure of what benefits they have earned and what rights they have to them. Some are discouraged from using them. Many community programs and groups are ready and waiting to assist returning veterans and military families, but are unknown to the very people who might benefit from them. While Secretary Robert Gates has said it may take up to three years to fully implement the PTSD portion of the Dole-Shalala recommendations, why are we not utilizing the resources that are available in communities across the country?
  • Properly and fully fund the Veterans Administration. Billions in underfunding translates to long waiting lines, lack of funds for PTSD research, and not enough PTSD specialists at each VA facility.
  • Reduce tour lengths, decrease overall number of combat deployments, and increase dwell time between deployments by funding an increase in forces. With each successive deployment, troops’ susceptibility to PTSD increases. Army Chief of Staff George W. Casey Jr. testified last month before the Senate Armed Services Committee saying that the military must be grown in order for dwell-time to be increased, etc.
  • Restrict the ability to redeploy troops diagnosed with PTSD. No PTSD-diagnosed troops should be redeployed into a combat zone, and troops should not be deployed taking psychotropic drugs such as Paxil or Zoloft, that have been shown by the FDA to increase suicide risk.
  • Improve post-deployment assessments. Move away from relying on questionnaires and make physicals and one-on-one demob consultations mandatory. In February 2006, the VA contracted the Institute of Medicine to do a thorough review of scientific and medical literature related to the diagnosis and assessment of PTSD; the committee strongly concluded that the best way to determine whether a person is suffering from PTSD is with a “thorough, face-to-face interview by a health professional trained in diagnosing psychiatric disorders.” The DoD should follow the same rule.
  • Invest more in counseling and support. Rather than relying on quick-fix medications to solve returning psychological problems, invest time and resources in holistic wellness programs to help veterans and their families recover from the experience of war.
  • Remove stigma/punishment for those seeking help. One of the easiest ways to do this would be to operate under the assumption that everyone will need some form of support following combat. Move away from a system where those struggling most must somehow find the strength to conspicuously come forward on their own.
  • Require completion of a ‘boot camp in reverse’ transitional training program. Military families who have lost loved ones to suicide consistently say there should be a more formal reentry program following return from combat, weekly meetings/classes lasting from 2 to 3 months. The program should be as required to attend and complete by all service members as boot camp.
  • Pay special attention in supporting National Guard and Reserve forces. Not being a part of a cohesive unit, they are especially susceptible to PTSD.
  • Stop closing VA Hospitals and Vet Centers. We should be providing more opportunities for veterans scattered across the country, especially in rural areas, to have access to health care benefits.
  • Increase funding to community service boards. Many troops – especially those with the National Guard and Reserve or in rural areas – do not have easy access to health services. Make sure they have alternatives to getting the care they need, or fully reimburse their private health care bills.
  • Increase Vet Center program offerings. Offer more complimentary group and individual classes for troops and military families that explain what PTSD is, how it can be treated and how one can forge the tools necessary to move their lives beyond it.
  • Provide complimentary counseling to all immediate family members. If the service member refuses to seek help, the spouse and children should have access to counseling service to help them through their loved one’s reintegration process.
  • Increase personal data security and treatment anonymity. Many will not come forward to get the help they need because they worry it may come back to haunt them when they’re up for a promotion, being considered for a mission, or when looking for civilian employment. Family members, however, should not be kept in the dark, especially if veteran is prescribed psychotropic medication.

Selection of OEF/OIF Veteran Suicides

The ePluribus Media PTSD Timeline, is a collection of press-reported cases of post-combat related possible, probable, self-reported and/or confirmed incidents of PTSD or broader reintegration difficulties. The work is meant to preserve incidents that are at risk of being lost to us with the forward movement of time, as small town news websites do not archive many of their reports.

Additional reasons for the existence of the PTSD Timeline include:

  • Allowing for ease of study of PTSD and related reintegration issues by researchers, reporters, educational and government institutions
  • Fostering further discussion and exploration of post-combat reintegration issues
  • Validating to military family members that we are paying attention to their experiences

What follows is a brief glimpse at the personal post-war landscape for our military families revealed through suicide incidents tracked by me and other citizen journalists in the PTSD Timeline since September of 2005.

Legend: /ss/=stateside suicide /oif/=OIF combat zone suicide /oef/=OEF combat zone suicide

2002

Following the terrorist attacks of September 11th, Operation Enduring Freedom commenced with the invasion of Afghanistan on October 7, 2001. Fort Bragg, N.C., home of the Army Special Operations Command, was the first to experience a cluster of post-deployment reintegration issues when three military wives were murdered by their recently-returned husbands within a span of five weeks. (One additional wife was murdered during this same timeframe, but the husband had not deployed to OEF).

On June 11, 2002/ss/, Rigoberto Nieves (32-year old Special Forces sergeant) fatally shot his wife and then himself in an off-base murder/suicide after having returned home from Afghanistan in mid-March. On July 19, 2002/ss/, Brandon Floyd (30-year old Special Ops soldier) shot his wife and then himself in an off-base murder/suicide after having returned home in January.

CNN reported at the time: “Fort Bragg garrison commander, Army Col. Tad Davis, is reviewing counseling and stress-management programs available at the base. A spokesman said the Army wants to see if there is something it could do better. But one military official who had previously served at Fort Bragg pointed out that Special Operations soldiers may be reluctant to seek help.” [iii]

2003

On March 19, 2003, Operation Iraqi Freedom commenced.

Joseph Suell (24-year old veteran and father of two who’d served in South Korea, Kuwait and Iraq) intentionally overdosed on June 16, 2003/oif/, the day after Father’s Day. Corey Small (20-year old Ft. Polk, La., army private) shot himself in front of others after making a phone call home on July 3, 2003/oif/.

The following day, on July 4, 2003/oif/, James Curtis Coons (36-year old army master sergeant with 17 years of military service, OIF Bronze Star) hanged himself with a bed sheet at Walter Reed Army Medical Center; he had been evacuated from Kuwait two weeks earlier following an overdose.

Alyssa Peterson (27-year old Arabic-speaking interpreter with the 311th Military Intelligence BN, 101st Airborne), who reportedly disagreed with interrogation techniques being used at Tal-Afar prison, shot herself on September 12, 2003/oif/. On October 1, 2003/ss/, Kyle Edward Williams (21-year old soldier with a clean record who’d served in Iraq with the 507th Maintenance Company) shot and killed an Arizona man who’d broken into his car and later shot himself.

Thomas J. Sweet II (23-year old Ft. Riley, Kan., 5th Field Artillery Regiment, 1st Infantry Division sergeant) shot himself on November 27, 2003/oif/, the very day he received word of his promotion. Jeffrey Braun (19-year old 82nd Airborne Division paratrooper) shot himself on December 1, 2003/oif/.

2004

Alexis Soto-Ramirez (43-year old 544th Military Police Company specialist), who’d been evacuated a month earlier from Iraq due to back pain, hanged himself with his bathrobe sash at Walter Reed Army Medical Center on January 12, 2004/ss/. Five days later, on January 17, 2004/ss/, Jeremy Seeley (28-year old 101st Airborne specialist) walked off Fort Campbell, Ky., checked into a hotel, and overdosed on household poison.

Boyd Wicks, Jr. (Marine infantry sergeant) returned from Iraq in June 2003 and was discharged in October; he committed suicide on February 1, 2004/ss/, his father saying of PTSD. On March 7, 2004/oif/, Matthew Milczark (18-year old Marine) shot himself in a Kuwaiti military chapel. One week later, on March 14, 2004/ss/, William Howell (36-year old Ft. Carson, Colo., Special Forces chief warrant officer with 17 years of military service as a Green Beret) threatened his wife with a gun, and then shot himself as police officers moved in on him; he’d returned from Iraq a mere three weeks earlier.

Four days later, on March 18, 2004/ss/, Brandon Ratliff (6-times decorated Army Reserve’s 909th Forward Surgical Team executive officer), shot himself after writing The Columbus Dispatch, “I didn’t think I’d have to fight over there and have to fight these guys, too.” He’d lost a promised promotion and raise following his tour in Afghanistan saving injured soldiers on the frontline.

On March 21, 2004/ss/, Ken Dennis (22-year old Marine corporal and combat rifleman who’d served in Pakistan, Afghanistan, Somalia, Djibouti and Iraq) hanged himself with his belt in his Renton, Wash., apartment eight months after returning from Iraq. He’d confessed to his father, “You know, Dad, it’s really hard – very, very hard – to see a man’s face and kill him.”

Jeffrey Lucey (23-year old Marine Reserve) hanged himself in his basement on June 22, 2004/ss/, after his parents had involuntarily committed him to the local VA; he was released three days later and told to stop drinking before they could assess him for PTSD.

Also on June 22, 2004/ss/, Adam Kelley (36-year old Gulf War combat veteran) ended his 13-year struggle with PTSD and shot himself in his car while sitting in his truck behind a Las Vegas sandwich shop. His mother blamed long VA waits, shuffling from one doctor to another, prescribing medications that did more harm than good and monthly appointments with a physician’s assistant rather than weekly appointments with a physician’s aide as contributing factors.

Andre Ventura McDaniel (40-year old Ft. Carson, Colo., Special Forces soldier) shot himself six weeks after returning from Iraq, on August 28, 2004/ss/. On September 24, 2004/ss/, Michael Torok (23-year old Ft. Bragg, N.C., communications specialist) stabbed himself in the heart in his car parked alongside a rural Illinois corn field. He had visited the Hines VAMC for various ailments following his Afghanistan service, but Hines was not screening all returning veterans for PTSD at the time. The next day, he told his parents he was going to visit a friend and was never seen or heard from again.

On October 9, 2004/ss/, Brian McKeehan (37-year old Fort Euliss, Va., soldier) hanged himself with a bed sheet in the Virginia Peninsula Regional Jail, one month after returning from Iraq and 12 hours after being arrested for assaulting his wife. In the four weeks he was home, local police had responded to six domestic violence complaints. Michael Jon Pelkey (29-year old Fort Sill, Ok., captain) shot himself on November 5, 2004/ss/ a year after returning from Iraq. He had received a private diagnosis of PTSD, but was told of months-long waits for mental health care appointments on base.

Curtis Greene (25-year old Ft. Riley, Kan., soldier) abruptly went AWOL, saying he did not want to return to Iraq; after his wife begged him to return, he hanged himself in his barracks on December 6, 2004/ss/. Police had previously responded to two domestic violence calls and he was being treated for PTSD.

2005

Andres Raya (19-year old Camp Pendleton, Calif., Marine) committed suicide-by-cop on January 9, 2005/ss/ four months after taking part in the invasion of Fallujah. After telling family he did not want to return to Iraq, he fired on Modesto police in an apparent premeditated 3-hour ambush in which one police officer was killed and another critically injured. Mark C. Warren (44-year old 116th Armor Cavalry Regiment Oregon Army National Guardsman) shot himself in Kirkuk on January 31, 2005/oif/.

John Ruocco (40-year old Marine cobra helicopter pilot from Newbury, Mass.) hanged himself in February 2005/ss/, three months after returning home from Iraq and a few weeks before he was to redeploy. His wife said he worried about the ramifications of seeking help, personally and professionally.

On February 3, 2005/ss/, Richard T. Corcoran (34-year old Ft. Bragg, N.C. Special Forces soldier who’d served in Afghanistan) shot his ex-wife and her boyfriend, and then shot himself.

Alan McClean (62-year old decorated Vietnam Purple Heart/Bronze Star veteran and minister who’d lost both legs to a landmine) shot himself in his Washington state church office on February 11, 2005/ss/. Formerly supportive of the war effort, but deeply affected by the rising casualty counts, he wrote, “35 Marines died today in Iraq, only slightly more noticed than my legs.” His daughter said later, “I underestimated the power of the war to take his life and I really feel that though my dad’s been in Wenatchee, the war in Iraq killed him.”

Steven Michael Logan (26-year old Marine intelligence clerk), personally reenlisted by Secretary of the Navy Gordon R. England at the peak of Mount Suribachi above Iowa Jima a year earlier, shot himself on February 28, 2005/ss/. Samuel Lee (19-year old 2nd Infantry Division soldier) serving in Ramadi shot himself on March 28, 2005/oif/ and Dominic Campisi (30-year old Delaware Air National Guardsman), who’d served in both Afghanistan and Iraq, killed himself on April 17, 2005/ss/ only days after returning from Uzbekistan.

On May 23, 2005/oef/, Kyle Hemauer (21-year old 29th Infantry Division Virginia National Guard specialist) shot himself in Afghanistan. And in Iraq on June 4, 2005/oif/, the highest-ranking OIF death at the time, Ted S. Westhusing (44-year old colonel and leading scholar of military ethics) shot himself in his base trailer. In emails to family, he seemed especially upset that traditional military values such as duty, honor and country had been replaced by profit motives in Iraq.

Justin “Paul” Byers (19-year old Iowa Army National Guardsman) stepped in front of highway pickup truck on June 20, 2005/ss/ after hearing of his 22-year old brother’s death in Iraq. On July 9, 2005/ss/, Jeremy Wilson (23-year old Ft. Carson, Colo., 10th Special Forces Group soldier) hanged himself in his barracks a month after returning from Iraq. Jason Cooper (23-year old Mt. Pleasant, Iowa, 308th Quartermaster Army Reserve specialist) hanged himself in his basement four months after his Iraq tour on July 14, 2005/ss/.

Eleven days after being pinned by then Army Chief of Staff Peter Schoomaker himself with the Army’s new Combat Action Badge, Leslie Frederick, Jr. (23-year old Purple Heart and Bronze Star Ft. Lewis, Wash., specialist) shot himself in his Tacoma apartment on July 26, 2005/ss/.

Two days later, on July 28, 2005/ss/, Saxxon Rech (20-year old Camp Lejeune, N.C., Marine) shot his girlfriend and himself in Washington; he had been mysteriously discharged in February. Two days later, Robert Decouteaux (24-year old Ft. Hood, Tx., soldier) shot himself on July 30, 2005/ss/, and another two days later, on August 1, 2005/ss/, Robert Hunt (22-year old Ft. Hood, Tx. 1st Cavalry Division radio operator-maintainer) was found dead in his apartment; both Decouteaux and Hunt had served in Iraq for a year and were scheduled to return in the fall.

Another two days later, on August 3, 2005/ss/, Stephen Sherwood (35-year old Ft. Carson, Colo., 2nd Brigade Combat Team soldier) shot his wife and then himself nine days after returning home from a year’s deployment in Iraq. He enlisted in January 2004 to have health benefits because his wife was pregnant.

Bernardo C. Negrete (53-year old retired brigadier general who’d served in Grenada, Panama and Iraq) shot himself on September 16, 2005/ss/ after his wife complained that he stop drinking and come to bed. Phillip Kent (26-year old Fort Hood, Texas, 720th Military Police Battalion 2nd lieutenant/platoon leader during the hunt for Saddam Hussein in Tikrit), after being hospitalized for PTSD following his return home and being discharged early, committed suicide on September 28, 2005/ss/.

On October 8, 2005/ss/, Greg Morris (57-year old 4th Infantry Division Vietnam veteran diagnosed with PTSD) shot himself; by his side were his gun, Purple Heart, and a folder of information on how the VA planned to review veterans PTSD cases [a plan that was halted following public outcry].

On November 8, 2005/ss/, Chris Forcum (20-year old Marine lance corporal) killed himself in Oregon six weeks after returning from Iraq. His father said at the time that “they teach soldiers how to fight, but they don’t teach them how to live when they come home.” Timothy Bowman (24-year old Illinois National Guard specialist) had joined the military after 9/11; he shot himself on Thanksgiving morning, November 24, 2005/ss/, eight months after coming home from Iraq.

Jeffrey Lehner (42-year old Marine Aerial Refueler Transport Squadron sergeant) shot his father and then himself on December 7, 2005/ss/, after calling his VA counselor in distress saying he would not be coming in the next day. After serving in Afghanistan, the Gulf War veteran had returned home at the end of 2004 in need of help, admitting himself to a VA hospital for intensive PTSD treatment. Instead, he was placed with bipolar and schizophrenic patients because the PTSD ward was full. On December 22, 2005/ss/, Joshua Omvig (22-year old Iowa Army Reverse soldier) shot himself a year after returning from Iraq.

2006

On January 16, 2006/ss/, Douglas Barber (37-year old National Guards supply convoy driver), following a two-year struggle with the VA over receiving treatment for his PTSD, changed his answering machine message to say he was checking out of this world, telephoned police and waited for them on his porch; when they would not shoot him, he shot himself.

Chuck Call (30-year Army gunner who’d volunteered to go to Iraq with another unit when his was not called up) committed suicide three months after returning on February 3, 2006/ss/. Haunted by nightmares and anxiety, he sought VA benefits only to be told he did not qualify for them due to his income. On February 20, 2006/ss/, Jon Trevino (36-year old Scott AFB 375th Aeromedical Evacuation Squadron tech sergeant who served in both Afghanistan and Iraq) shot his wife and himself.

In Iraq, Tina Priest (21-year old Fort Hood, Texas, 4th Infantry Division soldier) shot herself on March 1, 2006/oif/, two weeks after saying she was raped by a fellow soldier and days after being diagnosed and treated for Acute Stress Disorder consistent with Rape Trauma Syndrome.

Two days later, Donald Woodward (23-year old army soldier) shot himself on his favorite Pennsylvania hiking trail on March 3, 2006/ss/. He’d tried killing himself once before by lighting his truck on fire and getting inside; his wife pulled him out; afterwards, he finally agreed to get some help from the VA, which gave him antidepressants and scheduled a counseling appointment a month later. He committed suicide before the appointment date arrived.

Three days later, Greg Braun (26-year old Army Ranger sniper with the 128th Infantry of Wisconsin National Guard) shot himself in his basement four months after returning home from Iraq on March 6, 2006/ss/. He had served in Kosovo as well as tour tours in Iraq, and was a Milwaukee policeman. Eric Ryan Grossman (22-year old Marine) ran into California interstate traffic killing himself when a minivan hit him on April 6, 2006/ss/, only five days after returning from a seven-month tour in Iraq.

James Gallagher (Camp Pendleton, Calif., Marine gunnery sergeant) committed suicide eight months after returning from Iraq on May 1, 2006/ss/. On July 25, 2006/oef/, Andrew Velez (22-year old Army specialist) shot himself in Sharona, Afghanistan. Two years earlier his brother had died in Iraq and he was said to have “locked up” after identifying his remains. He suffered flashbacks and held his wife hostage between tours.

At home following a near-suicide attempt in Iraq in which he sought the help of his commanding officer, David Ramsey (27-year old Ft. Lewis, Wash., 47th Combat Support Hospital critical care nurse specialist) slipped through the cracks stateside as Madigan AMC released him from their care, unaware of his near suicide attempt in Iraq due to a lack of access to electronic records. Missing his follow-up appointment, he shot himself on September 7, 2006/ss/.

On October 17, 2006/ss/, Zachary Bowen (28-year old Army MP who’d served in Kosovo and Iraq) strangled and dismembered his girlfriend and 11 days later threw himself off of the ledge of the Omni Royal New Orleans hotel with a suicide note in his pocket. A day later, on October 18, 2006/ss/, Jeanne “Linda” Michel (33-year old Camp Bucca Navy medic) shot herself two weeks after returning to her husband and three kids. While overseas, she was prescribed Paxil for depression without family notification, and taken off the antidepressant, again without family notification, when she returned home.

James E. Dean (29-year old corporal) killed himself via suicide-by-cop shortly after learning he was to be redeployed to Iraq. The Afghanistan veteran diagnosed with PTSD barricaded himself at his father’s farm on Christmas Day; a Maryland State Police sharpshooter killed him 15 hours later, on December 26, 2006/ss/.

2007

On January 16, 2007/ss/, Jonathan Schulze (25-year old Marine machine gunner) hanged himself following two attempts to get help from the Minnesota VA system, once in Minneapolis/St. Paul, the other in St. Cloud. He was given a waiting list number of 26 for a counseling appointment, but was dead before the date arrived. The following day, on January 17, 2007/ss/, Michael Bramer (23-year old Fort Bragg, N.C., 82nd Airborne Division Special Forces Unit paratrooper who’d served in Afghanistan and Iraq) shot himself in his home.

Justin Bailey (27-year old Marine rifleman), among the first wave of the Iraq invasion and diagnosed with PTSD since returning, checked himself into a Los Angeles VAMC needing immediate help for prescription drug addiction. Yet, the day before his death, he received prescriptions for five medications, including a two-week supply of the potent painkiller methadone; he overdosed in his VAMC room on January 26, 2007/ss/.

Jessica Rich (24-year old Fort Carson, Colo., 52nd Engineering Battalion Army Reserve heavy equipment operator) drove directly into oncoming interstate traffic on February 8, 2007/ss/; medically evacuated from Iraq due to lower back pain and PTSD, she was on a waiting list for a specialized PTSD treatment program.

On February 20, 2007/ss/, Brian Jason Rand (26-year old Ft. Campbell, Ky., 30th Infantry Regiment sergeant) shot himself at a local park seven weeks after returning home to Clarksville, Tenn. He answered ‘yes’ to PTSD to the identifiers  on his post-deployment questionnaire following his second tour; yet, two days after being diagnosed with PTSD he was redeployed to Iraq for a third and final time.

Chris Dana (23-year old 163rd Infantry Battalion Montana National Guardsman) shot himself on March 4, 2007/ss/ after having cancelled his appointment for PTSD. His brother said after returning in November 2005 he seemed to be melting from the inside; his father said his eyes had lost their shine, the joy of living.

Stephen Edward Colley (22-year old Ft. Hood, Texas, helicopter mechanic) committed suicide on May 16, 2007/ss/. Returning from Iraq 6 months earlier, his father said he felt he could not get the psychological help he needed from the military for fear it would jeopardize his future career. On May 27, 2007/ss/, Brian William Skold (28-year old 151st Field Artillery Minnesota National Guardsman) died via suicide-by-cop.

The ninth Ft. Campbell, Ky., soldier to commit suicide in 2007, Derek Henderson (27-year old Afghanistan and Iraq veteran) jumped to his death from a bridge over the Ohio River on June 21, 2007/ss/. He had begun carrying a 12” knife and wanted a gun to “fight the enemy,” his medical records indicating PTSD five times. On July 25, 2007/ss/, Noah Charles Pierce (23-year old 3rd Infantry Division soldier) shot himself in rural Minnesota. The soldier who had signed up for the military after 9/11 wrote in his suicide note that he had killed people and now it was time to kill himself.

On August 29, 2007/ss/, John R. Fish II (19-year old Ft. Hood, Texas, 41st Fire Brigade ammunitions specialist) shot himself. He had returned from a long Iraq deployment in November 2006. Steven D. Lopez (23-year old Ft. Bragg, N.C., Afghanistan and Iraq veteran) shot his wife and then himself on November 5, 2007/ss/; he had sought help from base doctors and was prescribed Paxil.

On November 20, 2007/ss/, Joseph Colin Russell (25-year old two tour Ft. Hood, Texas, 1st Cavalry Division, 2nd Brigade soldier) shot himself at a friend’s house. He was homeless and accused of being responsible for the death of another vet following a fight at a nightclub.

Two days later, on November 22, 2007/ss/ – Thanksgiving Day – Tyler Curtis (25-year old two tour Iraq veteran) committed suicide three months after returning to Maine following his 2006 discharge from the Army. He was torn by grief for the families of those he may have killed.


[i] “Veterans' Group Emphasizes Suicide Risks,” Jennifer C. Kerr, Associated Press, May 28, 2007.

[ii] U.S. Congress. House, The President's Commission on Veterans' Pensions. The historical development of veterans' benefits in the United States: A report on veterans' benefits in the United States, 84th Cong., 2nd sess., May 9, 1956.

[iii] “Fort Bragg killings raise alarm about stress,” Barbara Starr, CNN, July 27, 2002