Monday, August 31, 2009

US government still not serious about military suicides

Jacob Blaylock's nightmares were always the same.
His two Army buddies,
Brandon Wallace and Joshua Schmit, didn't know they were dead. He had to remind them and then convince them.
Wallace and Schmit died in Iraq from a roadside bomb blast on April 14, 2007. Less than a month later, Blaylock was at home in Houston, struggling to adapt, kicking and punching and thrashing in his sleep.

He drank heavily -- whiskey and beer -- and his mood would often turn dark. He broke down whenever he heard "Du Hast" by the German band Rammstein, remembering a moment before Wallace and Schmit died, when the pair danced to the ridiculous tune in the mission staging area in front of their Humvee, which would later be engulfed in flames.
He drove the streets of Houston, where he had lived since he was a teenager, scanning the shoulder for roadside bombs.He told stories about tracer rounds scraping his cheeks, about being knocked off his feet by mortars and about picking up human fingers in the sand.

Rick Blaylock, Lowell, Ind., said his son's uneasiness with war intensified after he killed a man with a .50-caliber machine gun.

The above is from Konrad Marshall's "'I am well past gone' Sgt. Jacob Blaylock loses his struggle to start a new life at home" (Indianapolis Star) on the December 8, 2007 suicide of Iraq War veteran Jacob Blaylock who was not considered by the VA to be "an imminente suicide risk." Blaylock complained about the long delays in prescriptions from the VA and Marshall reports sleeping pills and anti-depressants arrived in the mail . . . two days after Jacob Blaylock took his own life. A note his father found among his things declared:

I have failed myself. I have let those around me down. I have failed myself. I have worn this fake smile too long now. It's too heavy. I can't hold it anymore.

Over the last years, the rate of suicides within the military has increased dramatically. The US Army, only one branch of service, released their latest data (for the month of July) at the middle of this month which noted: "There have been 96 reported active-duty Army suicides during the period Jan. 1, 2009 – July 31, 2009. Of these, 62 have been confirmed, and 34 are pending determination of manner of death. For the same period in 2008, there were 79 suicides among active-duty soldiers." These numbers do not include veterans.

Today Steve Vogel (Washington Post) offers a brief character sketch of Robert J. Ursano which notes, "Director of the Center for the Study of Traumatic Stress and chairman of the psychiatry department at Uniformed Services University of the Health Sciences in Bethesda." Ursano is one of the federal employees tasked with PTSD issues. And the sketch notes he's also tasked as leader of a National Institute of Mental Health Study . . . which will remind many of other times when he spread himself too thin.

If the federal government wants to get serious about military suicides, it's going to have demonstrate that it is serious about the issue. That means no more spill-overs when it comes to 'areas of expertise' -- 'related' issues aren't qualifications enough. That also means, you start tasking people on only the issue of PTSD. You don't put them in charge of a study here and a study there. If they're college professors, they take a leave of absence from their university. The only thing they publish while working PSTD for the federal government is the studies the federal government has tasked them to do.

Ursano really wants to be a media pundit and that was clear in the 90s and it was clear in 2003 when he was doing online chats. It's no doubt another feather in his cap, another bullet point on his resume, to be tasked with PTSD but the idea that he's any actual work on this issue or even offering any leadership is believable only to those who don't grasp that his plate was already full.

Robert L. Smith's "Private Keiffer Wilhelm of Ohio took his life in Iraq; now family learns his superiors are charged with bullying him and others" (Cleveland Plain Dealer) reports on the grief and pain Shane and Shelly Wilhelm endure following their son Kieffer Wilhelm's suicide:

They learned that four members of his platoon -- all superiors -- face charges for cruelty and mistreating subordinates, including their son, in the days before he killed himself Aug. 4 on a desert base 6,000 miles from home.
As they come to grips with the loss of a child, the Wilhelms ponder a nightmare: 19-year-old Keiffer Wilhelm may have been bullied to death -- and by brothers in arms.
"It had to be a lot of pressure. He had to be pushed to his mental limit," Shane Keiffer said Wednesday, drawing on a cigarette in his wooded back yard in the small town of Plymouth, about 70 miles southwest of Cleveland. "Because I know my son. He always walked away from trouble. He knew how to defend himself."
The 40-year-old injection molding technician, a soft-spoken Navy veteran, struggles to fathom a story that seems to grow darker by the week. He has taken to chain-smoking and fast drives into the countryside, where he feels free to scream.
Shelly Wilhelm, 39, yearns for details she shudders to contemplate. What exactly happened to the stepson who liked to lift her into a hug?
"I don't know that I want to know that," she said unsteadily. "But I also feel like I should find out. If I don't, won't this happen to someone else's child?"

It's a serious issue and the government needs to treat it as such. Tossing overworked 'experts' at the issue does nothing to help reduce suicides.

Bonnie notes Isaiah's The World Today Just Nuts "Bernanked" went up last night.

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