Via the Hartford Courant:
Among the troops who plunged through the gaps in the mental health system was Army Spec. Jeffrey Henthorn, a young father and third-generation soldier, whose death last year is still being mourned by his native Choctaw, Okla.More here and here.
What his hometown does not know is that Henthorn, 25, had been sent back to Iraq for a second tour, even though his superiors knew he was unstable and had threatened suicide at least twice, according to Army investigative reports and interviews. When he finally succeeded in killing himself on Feb. 8, 2005, at Camp Anaconda in Balad, Iraq, an Army report says, the work of the M-16 rifle was so thorough that fragments of his skull pierced the barracks ceiling.
In a case last July, a 20-year-old soldier who had written a suicide note to his mother was relieved of his gun and referred for a psychological evaluation, but then was accused of faking his mental problems and warned he could be disciplined, according to what he told his family. Three weeks later, after his gun had been handed back, Pfc. Jason Scheuerman, of Lynchburg, Va., used it to end his life.
Also kept in the war zone was Army Pfc. David L. Potter, 22, of Johnson City, Tenn., who was diagnosed with anxiety and depression while serving in Iraq in 2004. Potter remained with his unit in Baghdad despite a suicide attempt and a psychiatrist's recommendation that he be separated from the Army, records show. Ten days after the recommendation was signed, he slid a gun out from under another soldier's bed, climbed to the second floor of an abandoned building and shot himself through the mouth, the Army has concluded.
The spike in suicides among the all-volunteer force is a setback for military officials, who had pledged in late 2003 to improve mental health services, after expressing alarm that 11 soldiers and two Marines had killed themselves in Iraq in the first seven months of the war. When the number of suicides tumbled in 2004, top Army officials had credited their renewed prevention efforts.
But The Courant's review found that since 2003, the military has increasingly sent, kept and recycled troubled troops into combat - practices that undercut its assurances of improvements. Besides causing suicides, experts say, gaps in mental health care can cause violence between soldiers, accidents and critical mistakes in judgment during combat operations.
Military experts and advocates point to recruiting shortfalls and intense wartime pressure to maintain troop levels as reasons more service members with psychiatric problems are being deployed to the war zone and kept there.
"What you have is a military stretched so thin, they've resorted to keeping psychologically unfit soldiers at the front," said Stephen Robinson, the former longtime director of the National Gulf War Resource Center. "It's a policy that can do an awful lot of damage over time."
Previously at NBFH (list incomplete): No Veteran Not Left Behind
Dirty Bush to Vets: First We Maim Your Minds, Then We Dump You.
Dirty Bush to Vets: First We Maim Your Minds, Then We Dump You. It's Hard Work."