Friday, December 21, 2007

'A Soldier's Officer'

By Dana Priest and Anne HullWashington Post Staff Writers Sunday, December 2, 2007; Page A01

In a nondescript conference room at Walter Reed Army Medical Center, 1st Lt. Elizabeth Whiteside listened last week as an Army prosecutor outlined the criminal case against her in a preliminary hearing. The charges: attempting suicide and endangering the life of another soldier while serving in Iraq.

Her hands trembled as Maj. Stefan Wolfe, the prosecutor, argued that Whiteside, now a psychiatric outpatient at Walter Reed, should be court-martialed. After seven years of exemplary service, the 25-year-old Army reservist faces the possibility of life in prison if she is tried and convicted.

Read the rest of this story in The Washington Post at:

Thursday, December 20, 2007

Related Links from Patti Woodard

This came in from Patti:

AP IMPACT: Despite signs, suicidal soldier not taken out of Iraq Herald Tribune SANFORD, N.C. -- Private First Class Jason Scheuerman nailed a suicide note to his barracks closet in Iraq, stepped inside and shot himself. "Maybe finally I can get some peace," said the 20-year-old,...

Investigations into Scheuerman's death The News & Observer Pfc. Jason Scheuerman committed suicide in Iraq on July 30, 2005. His parents do not believe a thorough and independent investigation was conducted. His father sought the assistance of Rep. Bob Etheridge,...

Findings of investigations into death of Pfc. Jason Scheuerman The News & Observer Pfc. Jason Scheuerman committed suicide in Iraq on July 30, 2005. His parents do not believe a thorough and independent investigation was conducted. His father sought the assistance of Rep. Bob Etheridge,...

Living without Colby MSNBC TOUCHED BY WAR: COLBY UMBRELL'S STORY PART FOUR OF FOUR - Mark and Nancy Umbrell are surrounded with memories of their son. "So it's pretty much every day that I run into someone who says, 'I'm very sorry about...

US probe confirms 2 friendly-fire deaths The Boston Globe WASHINGTON—Two U.S. soldiers who died in Iraq in February were killed by friendly fire, according to a military investigation that said poor training and planning were to blame. Pvt. Matthew Zeimer, 18,...

Text of Scheuerman's suicide note The Miami Herald Text of Private First Class Jason Scheuerman's neatly written suicide note, including misspellings and blacked out names: This I leave as my last message to those who...

Text of Private Scheuerman's suicide note The News & Observer Text of Private First Class Jason Scheuerman's neatly written suicide note, including misspellings and blacked out names: This I leave as my last message to those...

Military: Friendly Fire Killed 2 Soldiers In Iraq MSNBC WASHINGTON --Two U.S. soldiers who died in Iraq in February were killed by friendly fire, according to a military investigation that said poor training and planning were to blame. Pvt. Matthew Zeimer, 18, of...

Friendly fire killed 2 U.S. soldiers in Iraq, investigation finds Houston Chronicle TOOLS WASHINGTON - Two U.S. soldiers who died in Iraq in February were killed by friendly fire, according to a military investigation that said poor training and planning were to blame. Pvt. Matthew Zeimer, 18,...

US Friendly-Fire Deaths in Iraq Las Vegas Sun By MARY CLARE JALONICK Associated Press Writer WASHINGTON (AP) - Two U.S. soldiers who died in Iraq in February were killed by friendly fire, according to a military investigation that said poor training and...

APNewsBreak: Military says friendly fire killed Tucson soldier Washington Examiner WASHINGTON (, ) - Two U.S. soldiers who died in in February were killed by friendly fire, according to a military investigation that said poor training and planning were to blame. , 18, of , , and , 20, of , ,...

Saturday, December 15, 2007

Data sought on veterans' suicide

By KIMBERLY HEFLING, Associated Press Writer Thu Dec 13, 2:27 AM ET

WASHINGTON - The parents of an Iraq war veteran who committed suicide and members of Congress on Wednesday questioned why there's not a comprehensive tracking system of suicide among Iraq and Afghanistan veterans.

Mike Bowman, of Forreston, Ill., said his son, Spc. Timothy Bowman, 23, is a member of the "unknown fallen" not counted in statistics. His son, a member of the Illinois National Guard, took his own life in 2005 eight months after returning from war. Bowman said he considers his son a "KBA" — killed because of action.

"If the veteran suicide rate is not classified as an epidemic that needs immediate and drastic attention, then the American fighting soldier needs someone in Washington who thinks it is," Bowman said.

Bowman was one of several witnesses who testified before the House Veterans' Affairs Committee on the issue.

Rep. Bob Filner, the committee chairman, questioned why the comprehensive tracking wasn't already being done.

"They don't want to know this, it looks to me," said Filner, D-Calif. "This could be tracked."

Dr. Ira Katz, the VA's deputy chief patient care service officer for mental health at the Department of Veterans Affairs, defended the work being done by his agency to tackle the issue, including implementing a suicide prevention hotline.

"We have a major suicide prevention program, the most comprehensive in the nation," Katz said. Katz questioned why Filner was focusing on the number of suicides instead of looking at treatment programs implemented to help prevent suicide.

Awareness of suicide among Iraq and Afghanistan veterans was heightened earlier this year when the Army said its suicide rate in 2006 rose to 17.3 per 100,000 troops — the highest level in 26 years of record-keeping.

The Department of Veterans Affairs tracks the number of Iraq and Afghanistan veterans who commit suicide, but only if they have been discharged from the military.

The Pentagon tracks the number of suicides in Iraq and Afghanistan. For an earlier story, a Pentagon spokeswoman told The Associated Press the military does not keep track of whether active duty troops who took who took their own lives served in Iraq or Afghanistan.

In an e-mail on Wednesday, the same spokeswoman, Cynthia Smith, said, "We track all suicides, I just don't have combat service information readily available."

At least 152 troops have committed suicide in Iraq and Afghanistan, according to the Defense Manpower Data Center, which tracks casualties for the Pentagon.

On Oct. 31, the AP reported that preliminary research from the Department of Veterans Affairs had found that from the start of the war in Afghanistan on Oct. 7, 2001, and the end of 2005, 283 troops who served in the wars who had been discharged from the military had committed suicide. On Wednesday, Katz said the VA's number had been changed to 144 because some of the veterans counted were actually in the active military and not discharged on the day they committed suicide.

Smith said that the military's suicide rate is still lower than that of the general population.

After leaving the military, however, veterans appear to be at greater risk for suicide than those who didn't serve. Earlier this year, researchers at Portland State University in Oregon found male veterans were twice as likely to commit suicide as their civilian counterparts.

In a report last May, the VA Inspector General said VA officials estimate 1,000 suicides per year among veterans receiving care within the agency and as many as 5,000 per year among all veterans.

"When decision makers do no have reliable data, we must rely on anecdotal evidence," said Rep. Steve Buyer, R-Ind. "While these may help inform us, it does not help us to develop strategies
to diminish the risk and prevent incidents of suicide."

Editor's note: I listened to this contentious hearing and noticed that the suicide rate among female soldiers in Iraq and Afghanistan was actually higher than that of the civilian population. For me, there was an 800 pound gorilla in the room which neither the House Veteran's Affairs Committee members nor the VA spokespeople could not, or would not bring up. That was the fact that not all suicides are actually suicides in the military. Some are homicides. This can skew any statistical analysis to the point where it is meaningless.

The military does not do CSI-type investigations in these cases. Families are lucky if any serious investigation at all is done. We have family members in our group who have had to do their own investigations. Some of the "suicides" are obviously homicides. See for Our Loved Ones' Stories.

I'm guessing that some "suicides" are politically expedient. Some homicides are covered up because if the public knew that soldiers were murdering one another the recruiting rate would go down even more.

I wish the Congress and the VA would drop the dance and get down to the heart of the question.

Is an undeclared war, started on a false premise demoralizing?

Do repeated, frequent deployments add to the stress that may cause actual suicide?

Are soldiers, especially female soldiers, being murdered and the murders covered up as suicide?


Suspected Army suicides set record

By Gregg Zoroya, USA TODAY

WASHINGTON — A record number of soldiers — 109 — have killed themselves this year, according to Army statistics showing confirmed or suspected suicides.
The deaths occur as soldiers serve longer combat deployments and the Army spends $100 million on support programs.

ON DEADLINE: Vets' suicides also being scrutinized

"Soldiers, families and equipment are stretched and stressed," Gen. George Casey, Army chief of staff, told Congress last month.

The Army provided suicide statistics to Sen. Patty Murray, D-Wash. Her staff shared them with USA TODAY.

Those numbers show 77 confirmed suicides Army-wide this year through Nov. 27 and 32 other deaths pending final determination as suicides.

The Army updated those statistics Wednesday, confirming 85 suicides, including 27 in Iraq and four in Afghanistan.

The highest number of Army suicides recorded since 1990 was 102 in 1992 — a period when the service was 20% larger than today.

A total of 109 suicides this year would equal a rate of 18.4 per 100,000, the highest since the Army started counting in 1980. The civilian suicide rate was 11 per 100,000 in 2004, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

The military hasn't erased the stigma surrounding mental health issues, so troubled soldiers often do not seek help, Murray says.

"I want to say I'm surprised" by the suicide increase, she says. "But when we're not doing everything we can to deal with mental health, when we know the Army is under such stress, it's not a surprise. It has to be a wakeup call."

The Army has moved more aggressively in recent years to stem suicides, instituting mandatory training for every soldier about mental health and establishing a program to study its suicides.

Research released by the Army in August shows that almost 70% of suicides in 2006 were spurred by failed relationships.

The Army continues to improve its suicide-prevention programs, spokesman Paul Boyce said Wednesday. A hotline number — 800-342-9647 — is also available.

Since Sept. 11, 2001, records show that 128 soldiers have killed themselves while serving in Iraq or Afghanistan.

One was Spc. Travis Virgadamo, 19, of Las Vegas. His family said he was on suicide watch but was eventually taken off, and his gun was returned. "That night he killed himself," says his grandmother, Kate O'Brien, of Pahrump, Nev.

O'Brien says her grandson desperately wanted to come home.

"He would say, 'Grandma, pray for me.' " she says. "What good is somebody (to the war effort) that is under such stress?"

Thursday, December 13, 2007

VA Must Act to Curb Combat-Vet Suicides, Panel Hears

by Chris Adams

WASHINGTON - The Department of Veterans Affairs needs to do more to find and treat returning soldiers who’re at risk of killing themselves if the country is going to avert a rash of veterans’ suicides, lawmakers and witnesses told a congressional hearing Wednesday.

In an often-combative hearing of the House Committee on Veterans’ Affairs, the parents of a National Guardsman told how their son had slipped quickly from the war zone in Iraq to his old life in rural Illinois with virtually no attention paid to his precarious mental health.

Timothy Bowman, 23, killed himself at his family’s business on Thanksgiving Day as his relatives gathered for an extended-family dinner in 2005.

Bowman’s story was featured in an article that ran in McClatchy newspapers nationwide last February, detailing how the soldier’s National Guard unit had returned from treacherous duty in Iraq and scattered to dozens of towns spread across five states. In the process, many were left to languish.

The McClatchy story also detailed how the VA, even by its own measures, wasn’t prepared to give returning veterans the care that could best help them overcome destructive, and sometimes fatal, mental health ailments. VA mental-health care is uneven across the country, with some clinics offering little or no specialized mental-health care and many of the VA’s hospital networks not offering special programs for post-traumatic stress disorder.

Timothy Bowman’s parents, Mike and Kim, captivated the committee, and the audience erupted in applause as they testified.

“The VA mental-health system is broken in function and understaffed in operation,” Mike Bowman said.

“We have the technology to create the most highly advanced military system, but when these veterans come home they find an understaffed, under-funded and under-equipped VA mental-health system that has so many challenges to get through it that many just give up trying,” he added.

Among the key issues raised at the hearing was the breakdown when soldiers transition from service in the Department of Defense to life as veterans. The government needs to do more to prevent people from slipping through the cracks as they leave active duty, Bowman and several lawmakers said.

Another key issue was the extent of veteran suicides, with the VA attacking a recent CBS News study that attempted to quantify the scope of the problem. While the agency criticized CBS’s methodology, the key Democrat on the committee lambasted the VA as trying to sidestep the issue. CBS News told McClatchy that it stands by its story.

The chairman of the committee, Rep. Bob Filner of California, blasted the agency’s top mental-health official as downplaying the problem and trying to obscure the issue with a series of mind-numbing numbers.

“I have to say, you’re ignoring the whole problem,” Filner said.

The VA official, Ira Katz, said his agency had boosted mental health funding substantially, that it had new suicide-prevention programs in place and that it had enough resources to care for veterans’ mental-health needs adequately.

© McClatchy Newspapers 2007

Sunday, December 09, 2007

From The Iraq Veterans Against the War Newsletter

I regret to bring you the sad news of the death of one of our IVAW members, Sammantha Owen-Ewing.

Last Monday, November 26, Sammantha Owen-Ewing, one of IVAW's newest members, the wife of my friend Scott, and a former Army medic like me, committed suicide in her Rhode Island home. Sammantha was only 20 years old, and in that short time had been an Army medic training to become a nurse while stationed at Walter Reed, then became a patient herself in Walter Reed's mental health ward. In June, she married Scott Ewing, also an IVAW member, and was discharged from the Army. Despite an uphill battle to receive care from the VA, things seemed to be looking up; she was getting settled into life in Rhode Island, planned to continue her medical career, and was becoming active in Iraq Veterans Against the War. Although most of us were never fortunate enough to know Sammantha, she was one of us and we mourn her passing.

It is impossible to sum up the life of a person, their personality and how much they meant to the people who loved them, in a few short lines. In her obituary, Sammantha was described as "sweet, thoughtful, and loving. She brought joy to the lives of those around her." I'm sorry I will never meet Sammantha and my deepest condolences go out to her family. I know that many IVAW members have suffered through depression, PTSD, and other forms of internal anguish, and many of us still deal with these things on a daily basis.

IVAW has set up a memorial fund on behalf of Sammantha Owen-Ewing to help her family offset her funeral costs. We will be accepting donations through the end of December, if you'd like to make a donation, go to

Suicide is a very real threat, especially for veterans. A recent CBS news investigation found that in 2005, veterans were twice as likely to commit suicide as non-vets, with 120 veteran suicides each week. Those of us who are between the ages of 20-24 have the highest rate of suicides, between 2 – 4 times higher than our civilian peers. For many veterans, the fighting doesn't end once we return from a war zone or get discharged from the military. If you are a veteran, or have a loved one who is, please be aware of the following resources that can offer help to those suffering from PTSD, depression, and other forms of mental suffering.

The Wounded Warrior Call-Center 1-877-487-6299 – This is a hotline for injured, wounded, or ill former and current Marines, Sailors and their family members. They offer information, resources, and advocacy for men and women suffering from either physical or psychological wounds.

National Suicide Prevention Lifeline 1-800-273-TALK (8255) – By calling and pressing "1" you will be connected with round-the-clock access to mental health professionals who focus solely on helping veterans.

SAVE (Suicide Awareness Voices of Education) – This non-profit's mission is to prevent suicide through public awareness and education, reduce stigma, and serve as a resource for those touched by suicide.

Vets 4 Vets, (520) 319-5500, – Vets 4 Vets is a peer support group for recent veterans. In weekend workshops and local groups, veterans talk and listen to each other to help heal from negative wartime and military experiences. Contact them to find out about upcoming workshops.

National Veterans Foundation, 1-888-777-4443, – This non-profit, non-governmental organization gives assistance, information and resources to veterans from all military branches.

Peace,Kelly DoughertyFormer Sergeant, Army National Guard Executive Director Iraq Veterans Against the War

P.S. Cards may be sent to Scott Ewing c/o IVAW: IVAWPO Box 8296Philadelphia, PA 19101

-- submitted by Laura Kent

Saturday, December 08, 2007

Marine's mother disputes suicide as cause of death

BY JENNY SHEARER, Californian staff writer
e-mail: Friday, Dec 7 2007 10:20 PM
Last Updated: Friday, Dec 7 2007 10:44 PM

The grieving mother of a Marine found dead in his barracks in August at Twentynine Palms doesn't believe her son committed suicide.

Rachel Hernandez with a photo of her son, Marine Lance Cpl. Ramiro Hernandez III, who was found dead in his barracks at Twentynine Palms in August.

But a military investigation concluded that Lance Cpl. Ramiro Hernandez III, 24, died in his barracks by hanging himself with a belt.

His roommate found him early on Aug. 20. No suicide note was found, and he had no history of depression, according to a suicide incident report from the Navy.

But Rachel Hernandez said her son wasn't the type of person to commit suicide.

"Anybody that knows Ramiro knows he's not a suicidal person," she said.

She believes foul play was involved in her son's death and thinks the Marines are trying to protect their image by concluding he killed himself.

Strange relationship

Both Rachel Hernandez and the military agree there was a woman in Ramiro's life who caused him to be troubled. But Ramiro Hernandez never met this woman in person; they communicated over the Internet through MySpace, text messages and phone calls.

Still, she contacted Ramiro Hernandez's relatives and he said he wanted his family to get to know her.

Ramiro Hernandez wore a wedding ring and told fellow Marines that he had married the woman in Las Vegas. But the military's investigation shows there's no evidence the two ever married.

The military's report states his parents did not approve of his relationship with the woman.

His mother said the woman drove a wedge between her son and his family, friends in the military and friends in Bakersfield.

The Navy's suicide incident report noted 55 statements of fact based on interviews with Marines who knew Ramiro Hernandez.

Opinions drawn from these facts include "the suicide was the result of repeated issues that LCpl Hernandez had with this proclaimed wife over the span of a few months and the habitual lying to his peers, command and family. Further, the disruption in his family ties only furthered the problem."

Ramiro Hernandez had surgery to fix a hernia several weeks before his death and was taking prescribed vicodin and naproxen for pain.

The report states Ramiro Hernandez fell into a depression the week "leading up to his death, which caused him to mix a combination of prescription drugs and alcohol, which only furthered his depression."

Rachel Hernandez has no evidence to refute the report, but she believes her son wasn't depressed, and she maintains he didn't do drugs.

After his death, the woman spoke with a sergeant at Twentynine Palms, according to the report. She was worried about getting in trouble, and told the sergeant she and Ramiro Hernandez were not married.

The Naval Criminal Investigative Service is looking into his death. The inquiry is "open and ongoing, pending lab work and additional interviews," said Paul O'Donnell, deputy communications director, in an e-mail message sent Friday afternoon. "It is our policy not to comment on open investigations."

The service investigates all non-combat, medically unattended deaths within the Navy.

"It is standard procedure for NCIS to investigate all aspects of every death," O'Donnell wrote.

Deaths go through two reviews.

"This process, along with the associated lab analysis, can take an extended period of time to complete, and is not necessarily indicative of foul play," O'Donnell said.

Ramiro Hernandez was viewed as a highly motivated Marine and a future leader in his platoon. His apparent suicide shocked his fellow Marines.

His mother fears the military will try to cover up what really happened to her son. Yet she's determined to find the truth.

"I have to be strong because I know I have a long fight," she said.

--submitted by Jane Tier

Friday, December 07, 2007

The Case of Lt. Whiteside

The Washington Post:

When it comes to the psychological wounds a war inflicts, the Army still doesn't get it.
Thursday, December 6, 2007

ARMY OFFICIALS are distressed that personal details about the health of 1st Lt. Elizabeth Whiteside have been made public. We bet: They look ridiculous in their cruel pursuit of legal charges against a woman injured in service to her country. This is not an isolated case of insensitivity. The abuse of Lt. Whiteside raises questions about how far the military has really come in its treatment of mental health problems.

Lt. Whiteside faces a possible court-martial on charges that she attempted suicide in Iraq. As reported by The Post's Dana Priest and Anne Hull, the 25-year-old Army reservist had a stellar record of service but had a breakdown, possibly caused by her service in war-torn Baghdad.

After a series of stressful incidents, she shot herself in the stomach. Despite the unequivocal judgment of psychiatrists that she suffers from significant mental illness, her commanders pressed criminal charges against her, and she's now waiting to hear whether the Army will court-martial her.

The Army contends that it couldn't look the other way, because serious allegations of kidnapping and aggravated assault are also involved. Yet, for all its sanctimonious talk, the Army was prepared to do just that -- as long as Lt. Whiteside was willing to quietly leave the service in a deal her lawyer says would have deprived her of benefits, including all-important health care. No final decision has been made on whether she will face a court-martial, which could lead to a possible life sentence. Maj. Gen. Richard J. Rowe Jr. will soon receive the results of an investigation. We hope he'll bring common sense and decency to bear on this sad tale and allow Lt. Whiteside to continue her recovery. That the case got as far as it did is a troubling indication of a culture in the military that gives little credence to psychiatric ills. How else to explain the fact that the relatives of a service member who loses a leg are provided free lodging and a per diem to help in the recovery while relatives of a service member receiving outpatient psychiatric care have to fend for themselves? There is no question that the Army has launched a number of worthy initiatives to help veterans returning from Iraq and Afghanistan with post-traumatic stress disorder and other mental ailments. Still, the trend of disparate treatment continues; as Sen. Patty Murray (D-Wash.) observed, too many soldiers believe they are better off losing a limb than suffering a mental disorder.

It was reassuring to hear retired Lt. Gen. James B. Peake, President Bush's nominee to be secretary of veterans affairs, tell the Senate Committee on Veterans Affairs at his confirmation hearing yesterday that treating veterans with post-traumatic stress disorder is "a very high priority." As the country grapples with how to treat its "invisible wounded," it is important that there be a command structure that actually listens to doctors and that doesn't send the message that those in need of help will be punished.

Wednesday, December 05, 2007

Soldier Charged in Sgt.'s Death in Iraq

December 4, 2007

FORT LEWIS, Wash. (AP) — A Fort Lewis soldier has been charged with murder in the death of his platoon sergeant in Iraq, though military investigators do not think the killing was intentional, the Army said Tuesday.

Cpl. Timothy Ayers, 21, is accused of shooting Sgt. 1st Class David A. Cooper Jr., who died Sept. 5 in Baghdad. Cooper was 36.

Investigators believe Ayers discharged a pistol in "wanton disregard for human life" at Forward Operating Base Falcon.

A Fort Lewis spokesman said Army prosecutors do not believe the killing was premeditated or that Ayers intended to kill Cooper.

A pretrial hearing to determine whether there's evidence to support a court-martial is scheduled for Feb. 5 at Fort Lewis. It was not immediately clear if Ayers had an attorney.

When Cooper died, the Defense Department said only that he suffered a non-combat injury that was under investigation. The charge was filed Nov. 8. Fort Lewis released the information after The News Tribune of Tacoma inquired about the investigation.

Fort Lewis spokesman Joseph Piek declined Tuesday to provide other details.

Cooper and Ayers were part of the 2nd Battalion, 23rd Infantry Regiment, a unit of the 4th Brigade, 2nd Infantry Division that deployed to Iraq last April on a tour that is to last until this summer.

Piek said Ayers returned in October and has been assigned to his unit's rear detachment. He is not in custody.

Ayers, from Long Beach, Calif., joined the Army in 2004. He was on his first deployment.
Cooper, a native of State College, Pa., served four years in the Army Reserve and then 15 in active duty. He was buried at Arlington National Cemetery.