As the scandal of suicide attempts by Iraq veterans expands -- in the face of Veterans Administration denials -- another horrific case has emerged, once again only gaining attention because of a local newspaper. I have been tracking these accounts for almost five years and only recently has the problem, with an estimated 1,000 attempts a month now reported, gained wide media, and to some extent official, attention.
The latest story came in a story by Patrick McCreless in The Cullman Times of Cullman, Ala. The headline is similar to so many others lately: "Family pushing for changes after soldier's suicide."
It tells how Dorothy Screws "witnessed her only son, U.S. Army Pvt. Tommie Edward Jones, commit suicide right before her eyes six weeks ago in Colorado. She says the Army, which promised to be there for Screws and her family to deal with the loss, has yet to provide assistance."
The story continues: "Now Screws can hardly do her job without breaking down. Just the simple act of living is a challenge.
"Only the memory of her son keeps Screws going as she fights to ensure another parent does not have to live through the same tragedy. 'I can't save my son now ... I want to save somebody,' Screws said with tears in her eyes. 'If I can save one soldier, it will be worth it.'"
"Screws plans to petition the government for as long as it takes until a law is passed requiring soldiers to undergo some type of psychological therapy after they return from intense combat."
Her son was 27 when he died at Fort Carson, Colo., on March 25. He served in Iraq in 2007 and suffered from PTSD. "He said, 'I wake up every morning angry,'" Screws said. "He said, 'My body is here but my mind is in Iraq.'"
Screws said she wants therapy to be mandatory for soldiers because many, like her son, do not seek help out of fear of being stigmatized or prevent them from rising in rank. She also detailed how she has gotten little support from the military since his death.
The article is at www.cullmantimes.com.
This comes amid the latest news reports that the number of suicides among veterans of wars in Iraq and Afghanistan may exceed the combat death toll because of inadequate mental health care, according to the U.S. government's top psychiatric researcher. Community mental health centers haven't provided enough sound care, especially in rural areas, Thomas Insel, director of the National Institute of Mental Health in Bethesda, Maryland, said yesterday.
Greg Mitchell's new book So Wrong for So Long: How the Press, the Pundits -- and the President -- Failed on Iraq has several chapters on suicides and other "nonhostile" deaths in Iraq.