Wednesday, October 17, 2007

Ft Campbell: 9 Suicides in 2007, 3 in Last 2 Weeks, Moves Commanding Gen to Act

From the Army Times:

Fort Campbell’s commanding general is making suicide prevention a priority as he cites the ninth soldier this year taking his own life as enough. The latest death was Tuesday, making it the third soldier suicide within the last two weeks.

“This is unacceptable and it must stop,” wrote 101st Airborne Division commander Maj. Gen. Jeffrey J. Schloesser in a letter to the post community. “I want everyone associated with Fort Campbell to take pause, and to focus on what we can do as a community to reverse this trend.”

Schloesser wrote in the letter that with the stresses that go along with multiple deployments, everyone needs to be extra vigilant about looking after each other.

More than 10,000 division soldiers have already deployed to the Middle East, with about 5,000 more to leave for Afghanistan early next year. Both tours are expected to last up to 15 months. For many of these soldiers it’s their third or fourth deployment within the last six years.

“In stressful times such as these, with so many pushed to the breaking point, it is vital that we ALL understand that we are not alone, and that EVERYONE has a role to play when it comes to suicide prevention,” he wrote.

In educational interest, article(s) quoted from extensively.

Last month, from IPS News:

Dane and April Somdahl own the Alien Art tattoo parlor on Camp Lejeune Boulevard -- just outside the sprawling Marine Corps base of the same name in Jacksonville, North Carolina. In an interview from the back of her shop, April talked about how her customers' tastes have changed since George W. Bush ordered the invasion of Iraq in March 2003.

As the war approached, she said, "The most popular tattoos were eagles and United States flags. Those were coming in so often and, you know, everybody was like 'I gotta get my flag.'"

Then, a year into the war, the Somdahls noticed a new wave of Marines coming in to get information from their military dog tags tattooed onto their bodies. Most said they wanted so called "meat tags" so their bodies could be identified when they die.

"We went through over a year of meat tags, but then that passed too," she said. "Now we are seeing a lot of memorial tattoos. Even the wives are getting memorial tattoos -- moms and dads in their fifties too. And in a lot of cases they're getting their first tattoos. And they're saying 'We didn't think we would ever get a tattoo, but this one is to remember my son.'"

Because of the changing needs of their clientele, the Somdahls no longer blast rock and roll music inside the shop. Instead, the artists work in silence.

"The mood has died," April told IPS.

"For our employees to do tattoos of photos of fallen heroes, fallen friends, it plays hard on them," she said. "It makes it so our artists are depressed. The tattoo isn't done just for decoration or just for fun anymore. The tattoo has become a solid symbol of their feelings and a lot of it dealing with the war."

The mood is particularly heavy because the Somdahls have had a death in their own family. On Feb. 20, April's younger brother, Sergeant Brian Jason Rand, shot himself under the Cumberland River Centre Pavilion in Clarksville outside Fort Campbell, Kentucky.

Officials at Fort Campbell refused to comment on Brian Rand's suicide, saying they don't discuss individual soldier's deaths. But the military brass has been investigating what seems like an increasing trend of soldiers taking their own lives.

From another report by the same journalist:

After two tours in Iraq, Brian Rand told his sister April Somdahl: "I can see everything April. It all makes perfect sense now. I know what I have to do and it makes so much sense. I have to die. I have to leave the physical realm and leave earth and go up in heaven and be part of the Army of God and I've got to stop this war and save my guys here. And the best way I can do that is to do it up in heaven 'cause I can't do anything while I'm down here.'"

On February 20, 2007, the Clarksville, Tennessee police department found his body lying facedown under an entertainment pavilion on the banks of the Cumberland River, with a shotgun beside it.

Another Fort Campbell soldier among the nine to have committed suicide this year is Derek Henderson. From the Louisville Courier-Journal:

Derek Henderson's hands shook as he held the railing on the Clark Memorial Bridge and stared down at the dark waters of the Ohio River.

A few feet away stood Aisha "Nikki" McGuire and her boyfriend, Patrick Craig, who had spotted Henderson while driving by. They begged him not to jump -- "It's not worth it," they said. Henderson wouldn't say what brought him there. "I don't want to talk about it," he told Craig, before climbing over the railing and hanging for a moment off the other side.

McGuire looked at his face and saw fear. She ran to police officers who were just pulling up, as the big clock on the Colgate plant across the river in Indiana showed a few minutes before midnight.

Craig kept pleading with Henderson: "God is with you, man. Come on."

"Thank you, brother," Henderson said.

Then he let go.

On that night in mid-June, Henderson, a 27-year-old Louisville resident who'd served with the Army in Iraq and Afghanistan, surrendered to an enemy that has tormented thousands of veterans.

Like nearly one out of every five Americans who have served in the conflicts, Henderson suffered from Post Traumatic Stress Disorder. And like many of them, he had made the rounds of veterans' hospitals and psychiatric wards but still was unable to defeat his demons.

Although it's unclear exactly when he was diagnosed, his PTSD is noted at least five times in medical records, obtained by his family and supplied to The Courier-Journal, that cover a period that begins shortly after his Army discharge in October 2003.

Henderson's family believes the Louisville Veterans Affairs Medical Center could have done more to ease his pain, by keeping him in the hospital for longer stays, for example.

VA officials wouldn't discuss the case for privacy reasons but expressed condolences to the family.

Henderson's story is, in many ways, a familiar one. A study published in June showed that men who served in the military are twice as likely to kill themselves as men who haven't, and the federal government estimates that 5,000 veterans, including those who have not seen combat, commit suicide every year.

Experts worry that the numbers will grow as more soldiers come home with mental wounds. Dr. Bentson McFarland, an Oregon psychiatry and public health professor and an author of the recent suicide study, said veterans of the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan face many risk factors, such as repeated tours and the constant stress of urban warfare.

"I hate to say it," McFarland said, "but I think it's going to be worse than Vietnam."

After a look at Henderson's childhood, the piece describes what he was like when he returned from Iraq:

When he returned home after an honorable discharge in October 2003, Henderson was edgy and quick-tempered, his family said. He began to carry a footlong knife in his car.

One night, when his mother stopped at his apartment, he seemed agitated as he took her hand, forcefully pulled her to her knees and demanded she pray. "Derek," she told him, "you've got to get help." She petitioned to have him committed to the VA Medical Center in November, and a judge agreed, calling for a 60-day involuntary hospitalization.

In medical records provided by Henderson's family, a psychiatric exam done at University Hospital before the commitment said he "has a hard time with transformation from military life to civilian life," that he was asking for a gun to protect himself "on the battlefield."

Despite the judge's recommendation, VA doctors released him after a week with an anti-anxiety medication called BuSpar, which is sometimes used to treated "hyperarousal" or irritability in PTSD, medical records say. Henderson's mother said she pleaded with doctors to keep him longer or give him stronger medication.

A month later, Crumes Henderson said, she was working at Norton Audubon Hospital as a night shift nursing assistant when her son confronted her. Agitated and angry, he accused her of interfering with his attempts to get a job as a contractor in Afghanistan -- which she said she didn't do.

Before she could calm him, he sped off, but he returned later in the night. Swearing at her, he again accused her of interfering with his job plans.

"What's wrong with you?" she asked. Outside, he drove his car toward his mother and two co-workers; the car brushed her hip. He then backed up the car and struck a stairwell. Employees scattered.

Henderson got out of his car, looked up at the sky and yelled: "Oh God! What did I do?" Then he took the knife from his car and hacked at his left wrist.

Crumes Henderson and her co-workers were treated for minor injuries at Audubon, while an ambulance took her son to University Hospital for emergency surgery to repair nerves, tendons and an artery.

A record of the trip, provided by the family, says doctors and nurses told ambulance workers that PTSD, combined with anger, prompted the violence.

A 2001 study in the journal Military Medicine showed far more aggression among veterans with PTSD than those without. And the VA's National Center for PTSD says: "Many symptoms of PTSD can lead to a lifestyle that is likely to result in … sudden outbursts of violence."

University Hospital medical records describe Henderson's PTSD and his difficulties with "adjustment to civilian life." They say he "talked at length about time served in Iraq" and told doctors, nurses and therapists that he was "looking for peace."

Medical records also say Henderson suffered from psychosis, a loss of contact with reality that sometimes co-exists with PTSD. One chart listed schizoaffective disorder, a mental illness characterized by delusions and mood problems.

Nurses and therapists also noted that he spent hours in prayer. Pointing at his Bible, he told one hospital worker, "I just need to read more."

After about two weeks, doctors transferred him to Central State Hospital, a psychiatric care facility in eastern Jefferson County.

After that, he made the rounds of the VA, University Hospital and Central State. His family can't remember how many stays there were, but said they were frequent. Most were short, although Central once kept him more than a month, and his family believed the long-term care served him best.

Another of far too many incidents that will be added to the PTSD Timeline in the coming months as I return to that project.

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