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February 12, 2009

Number of Soldiers Committing Suicide on the Rise

This is outrageous!  Our soldiers and our veterans should never ever be treated in this inhumane, callous and cold manner.  Where is the help that they deserve?!  A vet should not have to seek out mental health rehabilitation when they return from a war zone; it should be automatic.  How can we send our soldiers to fight to protect our country and all our freedoms but offer them no fortification or refuge when these heroes return home?  This is vile and heartless in the worst kind of way.  If any soldier has a personality disorder, anxiety disorder or alcohol abuse the military should not enlist them; if the military chooses to enlist such an individual it then becomes the responsibility of the military to make sure that the soldier gets the care he or she needs.  Lieutenant Colonels and superiors who treat soldiers and their families in this despicable manner should be discharged form the military.

FORT CARSON, Colo. — The day before Halloween 2008, Army Pvt. Adam Lieberman swallowed handfuls of prescription pain pills and psychotropic drugs. Then he picked up a can of black paint and smeared onto the wall of his room in the Fort Carson barracks what he thought would be his last words to the world.

“I FACED THE ENEMY AND LIVED!” Lieberman painted on the wall in big, black letters. “IT WAS THE DEATH DEALERS THAT TOOK MY LIFE!”

Soldiers called Lieberman’s unit, the 1st Battalion, 67th Armored Regiment, the Death Dealers. Adam suffered serious mental health problems after a year of combat in Iraq. The Army, however, blamed his problems on a personality disorder, anxiety disorder or alcohol abuse — anything but the war. Instead of receiving treatment from the Army for his war-related problems, Adam faced something more akin to harassment. He was punished and demoted for his bad behavior, but not treated effectively for its cause. The Army’s fervent tough-guy atmosphere discouraged Adam from seeking help. Eventually he saw no other way out. Now, in what was to be his last message, he pointed the finger at the Army for his death.

It would be a voice from beyond the grave, he thought, screaming in uppercase letters. The last words, “THAT TOOK MY LIFE!” tilted down the wall in a slur, as the concoction of drugs seeped into Adam’s brain.

Late last month the Army released figures showing the highest suicide rate among soldiers in three decades. The Army says 128 soldiers committed suicide in 2008 with another 15 still under investigation. “Why do the numbers keep going up?” Army Secretary Pete Geren said at a Pentagon news conference Jan. 29. “We can’t tell you.” The Army announced a $50 million study to figure it out.

It is not just the suicides spiraling out of control. Salon assembled a sample of 25 cases of suicide, prescription drug overdoses or murder involving Fort Carson soldiers over the past four years, by no means a comprehensive list. In-depth study of 10 of those cases revealed a pattern of preventable deaths. In most cases, the deaths seemed avoidable if the Army had better handled garden-variety combat stress reactions.

Interviews, Army documents and medical records suggest that Adam might not have attempted suicide if he had received a proper diagnosis and treatment. His suicide attempt seems avoidable. But the Army’s mistreatment extended well into its aftermath.

At the last minute on October 30, Lieberman stumbled out of his room and dialed 911. He lived.

Five days later Adam’s mother, Heidi Lieberman, sat opposite the desk of Lieberman’s battalion commander, Lt. Col. Lance Kohler, at Fort Carson. Nobody from the Army had bothered to call her in Rochester, N.Y., to tell her about Adam’s suicide attempt. There was no requirement to alert parents of an attempt, the Army said, only a successful suicide.

Heidi had watched her son’s mental health deteriorate precipitously after he returned from Iraq in late 2006. He had suffered from a laundry list of symptoms typical of post-traumatic stress disorder, including insomnia, depression, panic attacks and flashes of violent anger.

Two days after he swallowed the pills, Adam called his mother himself from the hospital. With her son still slurring his words from the effect of the meds, Heidi could barely understand him. When Heidi asked him where he was, Adam had to ask someone.

Sitting across from the lieutenant colonel’s desk, Heidi wanted to know why the Army had not moved her son into a unit supposedly dedicated to healthcare where he might get better treatment.

“Well, he has legals,” Kohler told her. Legal trouble. She knew Adam was struggling. Mostly Adam had been silencing his demons with 30 beers a day plus some Jameson. He’d puke in a bucket and start over. Mental health professionals call it self-medicating when a soldier comes back from war and turns to booze when he can’t get help, another typical reaction. Just as predictable is the bad behavior that comes with it.

To Heidi, Kohler’s response showed that the Army considered Adam a discipline problem, but didn’t seem particularly concerned about why.

“What legals?” Heidi asked.

Adam had broken into a candy machine, so petty larceny. He had also gone AWOL for a short time to say goodbye to an Army buddy in Texas headed off to a second tour in Iraq. The Army denied Adam’s request for leave. He went anyway.

“And defacing government property,” Kohler added to the list.

“When did he do this?”

“Within the last couple of days,” Kohler responded, staring.

Heidi thought. No. Couldn’t be.

“What did he deface?”

Kohler stared. “The wall in his bedroom.”

Heidi met his stare, exasperated. “You mean his suicide note?” Kohler just looked at her.

The next day Heidi called Adam’s company commander, Captain Phelps.

“You know,” Heidi fired at Phelps, “I still have a hard time wrapping my mind around the fact that my son is being charged with defacing government property and you people are more concerned about your wall than my son,” she stammered. Then she threatened, half jokingly, “I will paint that wall and make this stupidity go away.”

A pause, and then Phelps snapped, “We’ll contact supply and have them bring you the matching paint.”

And so, the Army allowed a mother to paint over her son’s suicide note. Heidi’s handicapped sister helped.

“I was kind of surprised that they took me up on that,” she said late last year sitting at her dining room table in her home in Rochester, N.Y. Heidi’s sister took photos of her, paint roller in hand, erasing what was supposed to be her son’s last message. “He agreed that if I painted that wall that charge would go away,” she recalled about her talk with Adam’s captain. “It didn’t.”

Just before Christmas, MPs fingerprinted and booked Adam for defacing government property.

Read the rest of this outrageous story and see the pictures of the suicide note on the wall at the link below.  This is great journalism – bringing light to things that should not be in the dark.

http://www.salon.com/news/primary_sources/2009/02/09/coming_home_one/

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