The epidemic of suicides among veterans of the Iraq war with PTSD has become so common that I sat down to write about two news ones today and end up writing about an even more recent, and shocking, one. It involves a decorated vet who wrote about his PTSD for the Marine Corps Gazette-- and this week killed himself and his brother after a long police chase in Arizona.
Police have discovered no motive for the killings, nor why the brothers earlier in the week may have planned to commit suicide by driving into the Grand Canyon -- Thelma and Louise style.
Staff Sgt. Travis Twiggs, 36, who enlisted in the Marine Corps in 1993 and held the combat action ribbon -- and met President Bush a few weeks ago -- wrote a lengthy article in the January issue of the Marine Corps Gazette detailing his efforts to deal with post-traumatic stress disorder. He loved his country so much he named a daughter America, The Arizona Republic reports today.
His brother was Willard J. Twiggs, age 38.
"All this violent behavior, him killing his brother, that was not my husband. If the PTSD would have been handled in a correct manner, none of this would have happened," Kellee Twiggs, the wife of Staff Sgt. Travis Twiggs, said. She said he began changing after his second tour of duty in Iraq, and worsened after he returned from his third stint there, when he lost two good friends from his platoon.
"He went and saw a physician's assistant who said that was the severest case of PTSD she'd seen in her life," Kellee Twiggs said, according to published reports. Twiggs had been absent without leave since May 5.
Travis Twiggs was given medications for mood elevation and sleeping to get him calmed down before beginning therapy. But again he was sent back to Iraq "and he was very, very different, angry, agitated, isolated and so forth," upon his return, Kellee Twiggs said, according to the Associated Press. "He was just doing crazy things."
She said her husband was treated in the psychiatric ward of Bethesda Naval Medical Center and then sent to a Veterans Affairs Department facility for four months. But she said she couldn't understand why he was not sent to a specialized PTSD clinic in New Jersey.
"They let him out. He was OK for a while and then it all started over again," she said, according to AP, adding that Travis Twiggs was with the Wounded Warrior Regiment and accompanied a group to Washington a few weeks ago where he met President Bush at the White House.
In his Marine Corps Gazette article, written after his fourth tour, he wrote: "All of my symptoms were back, and now I was in the process of destroying my family," he wrote. "My only regrets are how I let my command down after they had put so much trust in me and how I let my family down by pushing them away."
Most recently, Twiggs was assigned to the Marine Corps Warfighting Laboratory at Quantico, Va. Tom Ricks, The Washington Post's military reporter, notes today online that he had touted Twiggs' Marine Corps Gazette article about PTSD when it came out.
The AP describes Twiggs' final hours this way:
On Wednesday, Twiggs and his brother led law enforcement agents on a chase across more than 80 miles of Interstate 8 after speeding away from a Border Patrol checkpoint in southwestern Arizona.
After officers with the Tohono O'odham Police Department placed spike strips on the interstate, the car continued for about a mile. Police and Border Patrol agents heard two shots from the disabled car and later found both men slumped forward and dead in a vehicle they had carjacked Monday night within Grand Canyon National Park.
They are believed to have crashed their car at the canyon's edge and walked away from the scene, witnesses said, hours before the carjacking at gunpoint. Park spokeswoman Shannan Marcak said that investigators believe, based on how the car was hung up on a tree, the men may had tried to drive off the road and into the canyon.
Greg Mitchell's new book has several chapters on the suicide issue. It is So Wrong for So Long: How the Press, the Pundits -- and the President -- Fails on Iraq. It features a preface by Bruce Springsteen and a foreword by Joe Galloway.