Saturday, December 22, 2007

A Soldier's Suicide: Did he Have to Die?

What the soldier's father, Chris, would learn about his son's final days would lead the retired Special Forces commando, who teaches at Fort Bragg, to take on the very institution he's spent his life serving — and ultimately prompt an investigation by the Army Inspector General's office.

The documents, obtained by Freedom of Information Act requests filed by Chris Scheuerman, reveal a troubled soldier kept in Iraq despite repeated signs he was going to kill himself, including placing the muzzle of his weapon in his mouth multiple times.

Pfc. Jason Scheuerman nailed a suicide note to his barracks closet in Iraq, stepped inside and shot himself. "Maybe finaly I can get some peace," said the 20-year-old, misspelling "finally" but writing in a neat hand.

This Associated Press story brings to mind a recent conversation I had with a person in the mental health field. I was told some sketchy information about a local National Guard soldier just back from Iraq who is suffering severe Post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD). He was back from his 2nd 15-month tour and fears greatly that next December, he'll be back in Iraq.

The soldier said that one in his platoon already committed suicide and another attempted it twice but chickened out. He said, "So did I!" The man is terribly angry with everybody, including family members, but especially so of 'foreign looking people.'

The mental health worker told me, 'Luckily he doesn't have a weapon [he says] because if he did, he'd shoot somebody, I'm sure of that.'

I asked if the government was paying for his counselling sessions. Because he is a Reserve Member, he doesn't get Veteran benefits.

I have been thinking of this man for many days now and wonder how he will do in the next few days. Even trauma-less folks often find these days stressful.

The Reserve and National Guard surely have been abused by this administration and apparently it is showing. I heard on NPR on Friday that the newest mental health report on active-duty servicemen and women showed a large uptick in suicides and attempted suicides. The reporter said that the length of the war, the seemingly no end in sight, and the 15-month tours have contributed greatly to the demise in the mental health of the troops.

I am most angry with the right-wing talking heads who continue to pump up this war, sitting back in their easy chairs, with no blood on their hands or on their children's hands. "It's an all-volunteer army!" they cunningly proclaim, as if that inoculates them and the tragic deaths and injuries suffered by the soldiers and Marines.

But what of the National Guard and Reserves? They are not professional soldiers. They are, as their names suggest, an auxiliary force to be used in times of emergencies. Iraq is hardly an emergency and never was. Yet these brave men and women are called upon again and again to put their jobs and families on hold, and go into hell for 15 months and then return home to a 'normal life.'

Never in my life have I witness such a blatant misuse of our resources. Never. And it goes on and on, no end in sight.

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