Courtesy of the Huffington Post
With insufficient attention and systems in place, it may be that we're losing the battle against military suicide, a new study suggests.
Military suicides have increased since the start of the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan, according to a Center for a New American Security Suicide report. In the fiscal year 2009 alone, 1,868 veterans of these wars have made suicide attempts, according to armytimes.com.
A veteran commits suicide every 80 minutes, a fact the study attributes to the VA.
These staggering figures underscore the need for the VA to develop more mental-health programs and an accurate system for recording the number of veterans and service members who take their lives.
"America is losing its battle against suicide by veterans and service members," authors Dr. Margaret C. Harrell and Nancy Berglass concluded. "And as more troops return from deployment, the risk will only grow."
Faced with the stigma of post-traumatic stress disorder, unemployment rates tipping 12 percent and a loss of the military camaraderie, many veterans report feeling purposeless upon returning home.
Marine Corps veteran Jason Christiansen, 35, of St. Paul, Minn. is one such veteran that nearly killed himself after watching his life unravel upon completing his service. He lost his job as an auto dealer in 2008, avoided debt collectors and fell into a serious depression, Minnesota.publicradio.org reports.
"At one point, I was sitting there with a gun in my mouth," Christiansen told the news outlet.
A friend pushed Christiansen to seek help at a VA program, a key player in the rescuing of veterans in despair.
The Veterans Crisis Line, launched in 2007, has fielded more than 400,000 calls and has saved more than 14,000 lives, according to the Veterans Affairs mental health website.
The epidemic is raging among those who are currently serving too. From 2005 to 2010, approximately one service member committed suicide every 36 hours, the CNAS study revealed.
While the VA mental-health programs have proven to be effective, the authors of the report offered concrete suggestions on how to prevent even more military members and veterans from taking their lives.
Establishing an Army unit cohesion period
When soldiers are deployed to a new mission, the unit quickly disbands, leaving service members reeling from the loss of the leaders and the service members that they had learned to trust and rely on. "This lack of unit stability following a deployment has unfortunate implications for individuals struggling with reintegration," Harrell and Berglass noted. The authors suggested that the Army follow the Marines protocol of keeping a unit together for 90 days following deployment.
Discussing personally-owned weapons with service members
Though 48 percent of military suicides in 2010 occurred at the hands of privately-owned weapons, the 2011 National Defense Authorization Act bars military leaders from broaching the topic with military members, even if they appear to be severely depressed. The authors want Congress to rescind the act, so that military leaders can, at the very least, suggest that service members purchase gunlocks or store their weapons outside of the home if they suspect that they may be at risk for committing suicide.
Improving the analysis of veteran suicide data
The VA estimates that about 18 veterans commit suicide every day, but this statistic is based on limited data. Only 16 states submit the cause of death among veterans and the VA relies on 3-year-old data for its reports. Improved information collection could help determine if veterans are committing suicide soon after leaving the military and if there's a higher risk among post-9/11 veterans compared with earlier generations, the study noted.
"The DOD does not currently take sufficient responsibility for veteran suicide," the authors said. "Given the potential implications of veteran suicide for the all volunteer force, the DOD should seek to understand which veterans, and how many veterans, are dying by suicide."
Save the Date
FRIDAY NOVEMBER 11th (VETERANS DAY) BENIHANA WILL BE HONORING SAVING AMERICA'S HEROES BY DONATING 20% OF ALL PROCEEDS TO THE FOUNDATION! PLEASE MAKE YOUR RESERVATIONS NOW (503) 643-4016 WHEN MAKING RESERVATIONS PLEASE MENTION SAVING AMERICA'S HEROES FUNDRAISING. THANK YOU!
This is a great story showing our Oregon Senator, Senator Wyden cares about our soldiers that are coming back from Iraq and Afganastan. He is aiming to make demobilization more soldier-friendly.
UBERTHON / SAVING AMERICA'S HEROES FUNDRAISER
Saving America's Heroes (The Matthew M. Brennan Foundation) raised funds and awareness while promoting fitness during the PIR (Portland International Raceway) Uberthons Invitational that took place on October 22, 2011.
People registered for the Uberthons PIR Invitational race in Portland, Oregon through the Saving America's Heroes exclusive page, with a portion of their fee going to Saving America's Heroes work to raise awareness, educate, advocate and help advance and establish much needed solutions and resources that will proactively aid our veterans affected by Post Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD) due to combat in the Iraq and Afghanistan war.
PIR Invitational Race
1K, 5K, 10K, 1/2 Marathon, 10-Mile Relay
Saturday, October 22, 2011
Portland International Raceway
1940 North Victory Boulevard
Portland, OR 97217-7724
Enlist in the Fight to Keep Soldiers Alive 09/01/2011
After the release of the full, front page story last week in the Oregonian titled, "Deployed for Destruction" and on Oregonlive "The Life and Death of an Oregon Guardsman" we've heard from many people. It's so important to speak out to get help, speak up to raise awareness and share in an effort to gather support for our troops. If you have a comment or story you can contact us or leave a message in the comment section below. Here's an article we'd like to share with you written by the Mental Health Association of Portland. Here's to Saving America's Heroes!
THE LONELIEST BATTLEFIELD
Until last month, if a U.S. soldier killed himself in a combat zone, his family received his body and belongings, but not a letter of condolence from the president. In July, after what he called a “difficult and exhaustive review,” President Obama elected to change that callous and stigmatizing policy. The president now sends letters to families of soldiers who commit suicide in war zones just as he writes to families of service members killed in action. It’s a powerful statement by the commander in chief that soldier suicide is not about weakness, but about soldiers, airmen, sailors and Marines who battle bravely against mental illness.
With that step, Obama has joined the fight against the disturbing rise in soldier suicide tied to the wars in Afghanistan and Iraq. As The Oregonian’s Mike Francis described Sunday in the tragic story of Matt Brennan, the former Oregon Guardsman and Iraqi war veteran who killed himself in July, soldier suicide is deeply complex, difficult to address and demands a greater response than it’s getting.
The Oregon Guard counts 18 current and former soldier suicides just since 2007, and a 19th Oregon soldier, a member of the Army Reserves, also took his own life in 2009. Nationwide, the Army says 32 soldiers killed themselves in July, the highest monthly total since it started reporting suicide totals two years ago. But even that number understates the actual loss since it doesn’t count former soldiers such as Brennan, who left the Oregon Guard a month before he shot himself.
By any measure, Brennan belongs on that list of war-affected soldiers who took their own lives. He came home from almost a year in Iraq with the 41st Brigade of the Oregon Army National Guard “dark,” and “angry,” his parents told Francis. That wasn’t all. He also returned with a heroin habit and was, the Veterans Administration determined, 30 percent disabled from post-traumatic stress disorder.
The Guard helped him get drug treatment. Doctors prescribed medication for his anxiety. But his life spiraled down — he began keeping a pistol nearby. Sheriff’s deputies once found him asleep in his car, with his gun on the seat. He was taken to jail, an emergency room, an inpatient drug-treatment facility. His marriage broke up. He left the Guard.
Written that way, it seems to so fast, bang, bang, bang. But as Francis tells it, Matt Brennan’s suicide is a story of events over two years, a long tale of war and violence, mental illness, drugs, multiple efforts to intervene, inadequate or ineffectual treatment, and finally, a single gunshot.
There was no one place or time to intervene, or one step, that clearly would have prevented Brennan’s suicide. And almost all of the scores of soldier suicides seem like that, a blur of events, symptoms and behaviors culminating in one final violent act.
The Army, and especially the Oregon Guard, have stepped up suicide prevention. They go beyond simply trying to arrange health care and drug treatment for troubled soldiers. The Oregon Military Department formed the nation’s first “reintegration team” to provide support for everything from job-seeking advice to suicide counseling.
That’s critical work. But many more people, from the president on down, must enlist in the fight to keep soldiers alive. It will take a powerful force to break through the stigma that surrounds mental illness, and leaves far too many of these troubled young soldiers to wage their last battles alone.
A Letter to Salute Fellow PTSD Victims 09/01/2011
In response to the recent article featured on the front page of the Oregonian last week, "Deployed For Destruction" and on Oregonlive, "The Life and Death of an Oregon Guardsman" a letter was sent to us from a post written by Dr. Phil Leveque. We're very thankful for for this letter, and feel it's truly amazing what this doctor took the time to write. We'd like to share it with you. Please feel free to communicate in the comments section below this post. Here's to Saving America's Heroes!
VETERAN SUICIDES: DEPLOYED FOR DESTRUCTION
I argued with myself about reading the heartbreaking story in The Oregonian headline August
28, 2011 Deployed Against Suicide which was a story about the suicide of Matthew Brennan, an
Oregon National Guard Iraq War PTSD victim. The Oregonian did a superb job of showing what
destruction the American Army does to its young soldiers. His story is typical and should reflect badly
on the “system” if they really have one. His mother, Maria, said he left home a cheerful, optimistic
young man, he came back from his tour “dark, agitated and angry”.
The Oregonian pointed out an abysmal dereliction of duty of his officers and other superiors
including the Army Medical System. This was not a singular event. Oregon Military has one of the
highest counts of suicide in the U.S. Army with 32 Army suicides in July which is more than those
killed in the Middle East in battle. The VA indicates a 25% increase in suicides since 2005.
Matt Brennan started High School in Tualatin then graduated from Oregon National Guard
High School in Bend. This is a “real” Army style school and gives the students what the “real” Army is
like. Matt eventually joined the Army National Guard and then was deployed to Camp Victory in Iraq
where he started using heroin. How that got into his unit is a sample of dereliction by his officer,
Captain Eric Martz, and probably the Army Medicos who gave Matt stupefying drugs which really
didn’t work and had terrible side effects. The Army acknowledges that it had a “drug, sex and
command failure”. This is when and where Captain Martz failed his command duties. Matt also signed
an order that he had abused prescription drugs GIVEN BY ARMY MEDICOS and drank alcohol on
duty. I’d say he did anything he could to evade the master-slave situation which should have
signaled “something” to Captain Martz who just sent him home early, untreated.
The VA continued to give him zombifying drugs making him worse – despite his mothers
request for adequate treatment of PTSD which he was NOT getting. Matt had all of the signs of
severe PTSD but was rated only 30% by the VA. He was “kicked out” of The National Guard which
was the final, fatal insult which deprived him of even a semblance of care.
If this story isn’t a condemnation of the Army’s Infantry philosophy I can’t imagine what is.
They teach us to be alcoholics, drug and tobacco addicts. They train us to KILL OR BE KILLED
both of which are noble, heroic actions. At the same time or as a result of it, the military rate of
suicides is 3.2 times the civilian rate and their victims are at the top of they psycologic function or
they would not be accepted into the services. Hah, that’s a joke! The military has seriously failed its
“The Army intensified its suicide prevention in 2006”. I would say that it is not only a failure
but is totally counter productive. Counselors of any stripe who have not been in the PTSD causing
areas have no idea what they are treating and how to do it. The results are obvious.
A Federal Appeals Court has stated that about 1000 veterans attempt suicide each month. I
rest my case!! The Brennan family has established the Matthew M. Brennan Foundation
(www.matthewmbrennan.org or www.savingamericasheroes.org) to aid our PTSD veterans. I
am relieved that someone is doing this. The deeply entrenched Army and VA have been an abysmal
failure. The worst part is that even they know it and refuse to be concerned or change!
A SALUTE TO MY FELLOW PTSD VETERAN VICTIMS!!!
Front page featured story in the Oregonian Newspaper.
Written by Mike Francis, The Oregonian
As a child, Matthew Michael Brennan wore Michael Jordan's replica jersey everywhere he went. He played youth basketball and football, and later, on the offensive line at Tualatin High School. He was disconsolate when his beloved Miami Hurricanes lost the national championship football game. He tweeted about the Lakers.
But sitting with his mother, Maria, in a waiting room at the Portland VA Medical Center this summer, he deflected her small talk about athletes and ignored a copy of Sports Illustrated.
"He had no more interest in sports," she said.
It was one more personality change after he deployed to Iraq in 2009 with the 41st Special Troops Battalion of the 41st Brigade of the Oregon Army National Guard. He left as the strong-willed, passionate young man his family loved. He came back in February 2010 "dark," "agitated" and "angry," his parents say.
On July 16, a month after he was discharged by the Guard, the 22-year-old and a companion checked into a motel in Southeast Portland. Matt dumped the bullets from a loaded revolver on his bed. Then he replaced one, suddenly swung the gun to his neck and fired. The bullet severed critical arteries and passed through his spinal column. The medical examiner told his parents he died instantly.
A national tragedy
Matt Brennan's decision to kill himself represents a tragic trend among Oregon's military, which has one of the highest counts of suicide in the United States. Since 2007, when the Army began keeping rigorous statistics on suicides, the Oregon Guard counts 18 current and former soldier suicides. Another Guard soldier who died at age 41 remains under investigation. In addition, one Army Reserves soldier killed himself in 2009. Oregon's 19 Reserve Component suicides over the last four years means it has one of the highest military suicide tolls in the country, close behind Texas, Minnesota and Ohio.
Also, the Army announced this month that 32 soldiers killed themselves in July, the most in any month since it started reporting monthly suicide totals two years ago. The Army doesn't keep state-by-state totals of active-duty suicides; it sorts by their Army bases. Other military branches, too, are concerned about suicides.
Yet those numbers only hint at the full toll of suicide among veterans. Matt Brennan is not in the count because he left the Oregon Guard a month before his death, an Guard spokesman said. Nobody knows how many recent veterans like him have killed themselves, though a study disclosed last year by the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs showed the suicide rate among men aged 18-29 who left the military jumped 26 percent between 2005 and 2007.
To be sure, suicide is a problem that's bigger than the military. Oregon's suicide rate among the general population is higher than the national average, which has also been rising.
A study by Mental Health America ranked states by suicides and rates of evidence of depression for 2002-2006. Oregon's rate -- 15.46 suicides for every 100,000 residents -- was then 11th highest. The national rate was 11.5 per 100,000. Suicide was far and away the leading cause of violent death in 2009, according to the Oregon Health Authority, which reported a rate of 16.8 per 100,000 people that year. Homicide was next with 2.6 per 100,000.
Nationally, about half of all suicides involve guns.
A drug abuse spiral
Maria and Mike Brennan live in Happy Valley and say their son was a "strong-minded" person who finished his high school years at the Oregon Youth Challenge Program in Bend. It is a project of the Guard, a residential, alternative high school that requires cadets to be drug-free. The Brennans say Matt had lost interest in completing his senior year at Tualatin High School, so they offered him the choice of finishing in place or going to OYCP. He chose OYCP.
Soon after, he enlisted in the Oregon Air National Guard, then transferred to the Army National Guard about a year later.
The Brennans say Matt's spiral began at Camp Victory in Iraq, where he acquired a heroin habit. His unit commander, Capt. Eric Martz, believes his substance abuse began earlier, but acknowledged nothing was detected in pre-deployment screening.
"Matthew Brennan was an outstanding soldier when he was not under the influence," Martz wrote in an email.
While at Camp Victory near Baghdad, Brennan's unit ran convoys and provided security. Two members, Taylor Marks of Monmouth and Earl Werner of Amboy, Wash., were killed when an explosive penetrated their armored vehicle. Many in the unit, including Brennan, were awarded Combat Infantry Badges for exposure to "danger-close" rockets and mortars, Martz said.
In February 2010, near the end of the 12-month rotation, the Army received complaints of widespread drug use, sexual activity and a poor command climate. Investigators ultimately cleared the unit's leaders.
But Matt was one of the soldiers causing concern. Young and on his first deployment, he was torn by conflicting impulses. He asked to be baptized and a military chaplain performed the service. But he also signed an Article 15 order -- a non-judicial punishment by a soldier's commander -- for abusing prescription drugs and being intoxicated on duty, Martz said.
The order dropped him to Private First Class rank and he shipped home a couple of months ahead of his brigade.
Back in Oregon, Matt's problems continued. His parents say the VA classified him immediately as 30 percent disabled by post-traumatic stress disorder, or PTSD. Doctors prescribed medications for his anxiety and attention-deficit disorder, his mother said. He started treatment for drug addiction.
"He said, 'I'm tired of people telling me I have a drug problem,'" Maria Brennan said. What he needed, she said, was treatment for the depression and anxiety that mark PTSD.
Matt often kept a pistol nearby after returning from Iraq, said his mother, who was surprised to see it in the open at the apartment he shared with his wife. Maria Brennan told Matt it was dangerous. He told her he felt vulnerable without it, that he needed it to protect himself and his family.
Capt. Martz said he worked with Matt and his counselor at the Portland VA in the Opiates Treatment Center. This spring, he had a run-in with Clackamas County sheriffs deputies who found him near Damascus, asleep in his car, with a pistol on the seat. They took him to jail, then to a Kaiser Permanente emergency room. He entered an inpatient drug-treatment center for 30 days. Martz said he talked with Matt's wife about his care.
Around that time, though, the couple separated, and were headed for divorce after two years of marriage. For a while, Matt lived alone in the apartment they had shared. This May he moved back in with his parents, brother and four young sisters. (An older brother is a Navy corpsman preparing to study at Georgetown University.)
Matt went to his last drill weekend, required each month, in December 2010. Then, Martz said, he agreed to consider Matt present as long as he attended sessions at the VA.
But Matt stopped responding to his messages, Martz said. A Guard AWOL team looked for him, but wasn't able to contact him. The National Guard began proceedings to discharge him. He was discharged -- "kicked out," his father said -- on June 16.
His parents didn't know about the discharge, nor about Matt's attempt to kill himself in February 2010 by overdosing, until they looked through his military and medical records after he died.
"People say 'Well, you have memories.' That's why it hurts so much," Maria Brennan said, standing by Matt's gravesite. "We can't make any more memories."
She stood in a new section of Willamette National Cemetery, where Matt's grave awaited a headstone and a covering of sod, while workers drove backhoes and work trucks. Visiting Matt's grave has been a daily ritual for the Brennan family.
"The nights seem the hardest," said Mike Brennan, himself a former Marine who now serves in the Oregon Air National Guard.
The military effect
It's not clear just how much more likely a person is to kill himself if he's served in the military. But the rate of suicides in all branches of the service is as much as 3.2 times higher than the general population, according to independent studies and annual reports by each branch. Admiral Mike Mullen, former chairman of the Joint Chiefs, declared last year that the military faces a suicide "crisis." In the blunt phrasing of a 2010 Army report, "Simply stated, we are often more dangerous to ourselves than the enemy."
It is clear the military's orientation to violence, not to mention its training in firearms skills and its easy accessibility to weapons, brings a soldier closer to experiences with death.
People who serve in the military "feel very comfortable holding a gun," said Mark Kaplan, a Portland State University professor of community health who has published several suicide studies, including one on male veterans.
At the same time, he said, broader factors can't be dismissed in any study of military suicide. For example, many who join come from rural areas, where economic opportunities frequently are scarcer, and suicide rates tend to be higher. And for those who leave the service, the return home can be dispiriting.
When it comes to helping troops return to civilian life, "there is room for improvement," Kaplan said.
Harder to assess is whether part-time service, as in the Guard or Army Reserves, contributes to the likelihood of suicide. As Oregon Guard officials have put it, how much difference does it make to a suicidal person if he wears a military uniform one weekend a month? Some of the Oregon Guard suicides never deployed at all.
The Army intensified suicide prevention in 2006, as it became clear the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan were taking a heavy emotional toll. It produced reports, trained chaplains, appointed suicide prevention managers, conducted outreach programs, linked legal and medical databases, and sought to reverse the notion it's unsoldierly to admit mental and emotional distress. The Guard replicated many of the initiatives.
Still, following the report of 32 Army suicides in July, Sen. Richard Blumenthal, D-Conn., sent a letter to the Pentagon, saying the military hasn't moved quickly enough to adopt recommendations made last year by the commission that studied the suicide problem.
At the same time, a federal appeals court has declared the Department of Veterans Affairs frequently fails to detect and deter suicidal behavior among its clients -- even though "among all veterans enrolled in the VA system, ... 1,000 attempt suicide each month." The agency is appealing the opinion.
Oregon was one of the first states to recognize problems facing its Iraq and Afghanistan war veterans. In 2005, the Oregon Military Department formed the nation's first "reintegration team" to provide support and resources from everything from employment to suicide counseling. It now has a small staff of soldiers who spread the word about resources for veterans and, in some cases, intervene directly when a veteran says he is considering taking his life.
Retired Oregon Guard Maj. Don Weber, who works for the reintegration team in the Portland area, said in the last six months he knows of five soldiers in Matthew Brennan's unit who spoke of killing themselves. He met with two , and connected the others with counselors. None of the five has committed suicide.
Also, he said, when a member of the unit committed suicide a year ago, members of the reintegration team arranged for grief counselors, chaplains and consultants to attend several drill weekends.
Yet Matthew Brennan continued to spiral deeper into depression.
Out of death, resolve
The Brennans still struggle to understand the sequence of events that led to Matt's suicide. They say the Oregon Guard hasn't communicated with them what happened to their son in Iraq, nor after he came home. They are bitter about what they see is a failure of military leadership and for "treating my son like a piece of junk," Mike Brennan said.
After Matt married, then quickly deployed in 2009, he began to separate from his family, Mike Brennan said. Like most soldiers, Matt listed his wife as contact for military and medical issues, which means commanders and counselors talked to her about Matt's treatment.
The Brennans say today they were too late to save Matt, but not too late to help other veterans suffering from PTSD and its manifestations, which include drug and alcohol use, bursts of temper and withdrawal from family and friends. They have channeled their grief to make a difference.
They established the Matthew M. Brennan Foundation (www.matthewmbrennan.org or www.savingamericasheroes.org) to raise awareness for resources to treat PTSD. Mike Brennan said the foundation will advocate for veterans by buying billboard space and connecting veterans to one another and to professionals.
None of this will fill the void in the Brennan family. But his parents are determined not to grieve in silence while other veterans are at risk.
Says Maria Brennan: "We don't want any other family to go through what we did."
Some resources for those in the military, veterans and the people who care about them:
The National Suicide Prevention Lifeline
The Military Helpline operated by Oregon Partnership
The Returning Veterans Project
The Wounded Warrior Project's Combat Stress Recovery Program
The Oregon National Guard Family Assistance Program
The Oregon National Guard's Fort Oregon
The Veterans Administration's hospitals and clinics in the Northwest
Disabled American Veterans
Veterans of Foreign Wars
The American Legion
Iraq and Afghanistan Veterans of America