Friday, October 31, 2008

A Closer Look at Military Suicides

Contributed by Jane Self - Posted: October 30, 2008 4:39:38 PM

An article in today's New York Times that was on its Web site yesterday says that the U.S. Army and the National Institute of Mental Health are collaborating in a five-year project to identify the causes and risk factors of suicide.

According to the article, suicides in the Army have been climbing since the 2003 invasion of Iraq. In 2007, 115 soldiers killed themselves, a rate of 18.1 per 100,000 people, or 1 percent lower than the civilian rate. Of the 115, 36 soldiers killed themselves while deployed overseas, 50 had deployed at some point before the act and returned, and 29 had never deployed. Only a fraction had a prior diagnosis of post-traumatic stress disorder.

The pace of suicides by soldiers in 2008 could eclipse last year's. As of August, the number stood at 62 confirmed cases in the Army. An additional 31 deaths appear to be suicides and are under investigation.

The Denver Post has already started studying suicides in the military, publishing an extensive three-part series at the end of August this year. Reporters David Olinger and Erin Emery worked on this series for several months before publication.

One of the many examples provided in the series was an Alabama soldier who had been listed as killed in a "non-combat incident." In fact, it was not until after our Fallen Warrior story about this soldier that the specific information about his death was revealed.

Here is what was printed in the Denver Post series about the Cullman soldier:

Last August, Paul Norris became the 20th Fort Hood soldier to commit suicide in Iraq, according to records provided by the Army.

Norris, a 30-year-old veteran of combat tours in Bosnia and Iraq, shot himself. But first he shot and killed Kamisha Block, a 20-year-old woman who had spurned him.

Military officials announced both deaths as "noncombat" incidents under investigation.

Kamisha's parents, Jerry and Jane Block, say Norris had stalked and assaulted their daughter before he killed her, and she had reported the assaults to the Army.

"He just kept doing it. He was 'in love' with her. She was trying to get away from him," Jerry Block said.

"He verbally and physically assaulted her. It was reported to the higher command," Jane Block said. "He was e-mailing her and e-mailing her and e-mailing her. She wouldn't answer his e-mails. He went into her room, killed her, and then he killed himself."

She said Army officials have never explained why officers who knew of Norris' assaults and harassment failed to protect her daughter. The Army did give them a hefty investigative report that included sworn statements from other soldiers "that he was out of control," she said.

"The last time he assaulted her, he drove around looking for her. That was probably a week or two before he killed her," she said. "I asked, 'After the second assault, what did y'all do then?' The only thing they told me was a lot of mistakes were made."

This was clearly a horrible tragedy and should never have happened. Having spoke with both mothers of Norris and Block, my heart goes out to everyone. Sounds like the warning signs were clear and ignored. This guy needed help and the military needed to keep him away from Block.

Neither happened. Norris also had lost his two sisters in a terrible car crash a few years earlier and was on his second deployment to Iraq after a year in Afghanistan.

I welcome the search for more information about how to see these tragedies coming and providing whatever service is necessary to circumvent them when possible, particularly when other innocent victims bear the consequences. That's just atrocious.


Monday, October 27, 2008

Pentagon Finds Company Violated Its Contract on Electrical Work in Iraq

October 25, 2008


WASHINGTON — The Pentagon has rebuked its largest contractor in Iraq after a series of inspections uncovered shoddy electrical work and other problems on American military bases there, according to several Defense Department officials.

The Defense Contract Management Agency, the Pentagon agency in charge of supervising contractors in Iraq, determined in August that KBR, the Houston-based company that provides virtually all basic services for the American military in both Iraq and Afghanistan, has been guilty of “serious contractual noncompliance” in Iraq, the officials said.

The Pentagon’s finding could lead to cuts or delays in payments to KBR, and ultimately to a decision by the Army to withhold hundreds of millions of dollars in bonuses and fees due the company, officials said, but they added that no decisions on financial penalties had been made.

Defense officials, who spoke on condition of anonymity in order to discuss internal deliberations, declined to elaborate on the reasons for the new findings, except to say that they related to electrical problems and other issues.

KBR, formerly a subsidiary of Halliburton, has had a virtual monopoly on military services contracts in Iraq since the 2003 invasion, garnering more than $24 billion from its business in the war zone.

Questions about the quality of KBR’s electrical work on American bases in Iraq have plagued the company throughout 2008, leading to investigations and hearings by Congress as well as an inquiry by the Pentagon’s inspector general.

Internal Pentagon documents obtained by The New York Times suggest that the electrical problems may be more widespread than had been believed. A chart compiled by Army officials and not previously made public shows that more American personnel have been electrocuted in Iraq than the Bush administration has acknowledged.

At least 18 people have died from electrocution since the March 2003 invasion, including 10 from the Army, 5 from the Marine Corps, 1 from the Navy and 2 military contractors. The most recent electrocution occurred on Feb. 24. A chart listing each electrocution provides details but does not identify the victims by name.

This is the second time that the Pentagon has raised its figures on electrocutions in Iraq. Last spring, the Defense Department said that 12 American personnel members had been electrocuted in the country, and then later told Congress that the accurate figure was 13.

KBR is scrambling to respond with a plan to correct the problems cited by the Defense contracting experts, Pentagon officials said. Pentagon officials held a private meeting with KBR officials in Washington last week to review the company’s response, several of the officials said.

Heather Browne, a spokeswoman for KBR, declined to comment on the Pentagon’s finding.

In the past, some Army contracting experts have complained that their superiors in the Pentagon have been reluctant to confront KBR over its fees and the quality of its work. For example, the Army’s top official in charge of the KBR contract at the beginning of the war has said that he was removed from his job in 2004 after challenging KBR’s billing records for its work in Iraq.

The issue of shoddy electrical work on American military bases in Iraq first emerged in the wake of the death in January of Staff Sgt. Ryan D. Maseth, a Green Beret from Pennsylvania who was electrocuted while taking a shower in his barracks in Baghdad.

Sergeant Maseth’s family went public with their questions about the circumstances surrounding his death and filed a wrongful death lawsuit against KBR, accusing the company of failing to adequately maintain the building’s electrical system.

The Maseth case led to investigations of electrical work on American bases by Congress and the Pentagon’s inspector general, and ultimately prompted an order for comprehensive safety inspections of the electrical work at all American military facilities in Iraq.

Officials said that the Army recently reopened its investigation into Sergeant Maseth’s death, after obtaining new testimony and evidence in the case, including the discovery that another soldier had suffered electrical shocks while assigned to the same room as Sergeant Maseth.

KBR has “fully cooperated with Army C.I.D. on this matter, and we will continue to do so,” Ms. Browne, the spokeswoman, said, referring to the Army’s Criminal Investigation Command. “KBR maintains that its activities in Iraq were not responsible for Staff Sergeant Maseth’s death.”

Thursday, October 23, 2008

Mom of Ga. Sailor Killed in Non-Combat Incident Seeks Answers

Created: Wednesday, 22 Oct 2008, 5:26 PM EDT

The mother of a sailor from Georgia who was shot and killed at the U.S. Naval Base in Bahrain broke her silence Wednesday, Oct. 22, 2008 a year after her daughter's death.

Edited By: Leigha Baugham

LITHONIA, Ga. (MyFOX ATLANTA) – The mother of a sailor from Georgia who was shot and killed at the U.S. Naval Base in Bahrain broke her silence Wednesday, a year after her daughter's death. Anita Gresham said Wednesday that she finally got around to unpacking her daughter's belongings, a year after her death.

Nineteen-year-old Genesia Gresham was one of two sailors who were shot to death during a non-combat incident in the military barracks in October of 2007. Gresham was killed along with 20-year-old Anamarie Camacho of Panama City, Florida. Both women held the Master-At-Arms rating and were assigned to U.S. Naval support activity in Bahrain.

Navy officials said the suspect in the shooting, Clarence Jackson, remains in active duty as is stationed in Illinois.

Anita Gresham said her daughter had filed a restraining order against Jackson four months before she was killed. The sailor's mother said her daughter was scheduled to return to the U.S. just one day after her death.

Navy officials said they were sorry for Mrs. Gresham's loss. The incident remains under investigation.

This story content provided by FOX 5 Atlanta WAGA
Videos and original story

Tuesday, October 21, 2008

Michigan soldier found dead in Texas

(1st Cavalry Division Public Affairs Office)October 17, 2008

By Tammy Stables Battaglia
Free Press Staff Writer

Police in Texas are investigating the stabbing death of a 24-year-old soldier found dead in his apartment after his Fort Hood comrades reported he didn’t show up for duty.

Police from the Killeen, Texas, Police Department discovered the body of Staff Sgt. Ryan Michael Sullivan, 24, of Grand Rapids on Tuesday, according to an announcement released by the Army.
Killeen Police Captain J.W. Dunn said no weapon was found.

“We’re still trying to piece everything together,” Dunn said today, adding that police have interviewed people at the Fort Hood military base where Sullivan was stationed, along with others that knew him. “We’re still talking to a bunch of people.”

The Army said Sullivan was assigned to the 1st Battalion, 8th Cavalry Regiment, 2nd Brigade Combat Team, 1st Cavalry Division, where he served as a squad leader.

He joined the military in August 2002. While stationed in Iraq for 15 months for Operation Iraqi Freedom starting in 2006, he earned Combat Infantryman Badge, the Bronze Star Medal, the Iraqi Campaign Medal and the Global War on Terrorism Medal, the Army said.

He is survived by his mother and father.

--submitted by Patti Woodard

Saturday, October 18, 2008

Army to Probe Five Slayings Linked to Colorado Brigade

By P. SOLOMON BANDA, Associated Press Writer P. Solomon Banda, Associated Press Writer – 5 mins ago

DENVER – Fort Carson soldiers returning from deployment in Iraq are suspects in at least five slayings, and officials want to know why.

Commander Maj. Gen. Mark Graham announced Friday a task force will examine any commonalities in the five killings, all allegedly committed by soldiers from the post's 4th Brigade Combat Team in the past 14 months. A sixth BCT soldier faces an attempted murder charge.

"We have many great young Americans in our Army who have volunteered to serve during a time of war, almost all of whom are great citizens," Graham said in a statement. "However, we too are very concerned about these horrible acts."

Fort Carson also plans to re-screen about 1,200 soldiers from the brigade for potential physical or mental health problems.

Earlier Friday, Colorado Sen. Ken Salazar asked Army Secretary Pete Geren to investigate the slayings. Officials learned of the latest on Monday, when Spc. Robert Hull Marko, 21, led investigators to the body of 19-year-old Judilianna "Judi" Lawrence, whom he met on the social networking Web site MySpace, according to an arrest affidavit released Tuesday.

The affidavit said Marko told investigators he had violent sex with Lawrence before slitting her throat and leaving her to die in the foothills west of Colorado Springs. His next court appearance is Monday.

The issue of homicides by combat-stressed veterans gained national prominence in January, after The New York Times reported that at least 121 Iraq and Afghanistan war veterans had committed a killing in the United States or been charged in one.

Karen Linne, a spokeswoman for Fort Carson, said commanders two months ago ordered squad leaders and team leaders to reevaluate soldiers to see if they need additional help following concerns raised after another soldier from the unit was linked to a double slaying.

Pfc. Jomar Dionisio Falu-Vives, 24, and Spc. Rodolfo Torres-Gandarilla, 20, face attempted murder charges in the May 26 wounding of Capt. Zachary Zsody, who was shot twice while standing at an intersection. An arrest affidavit released in August said an AK-47 used in the Zsody case was found in Falu-Vives' apartment and it was also used in the June 6 deaths of two people gunned down on the street while putting up signs for a garage sale.

Killed were Cesar Ramirez Ibanez, 21, and Amairany Cervantes, 28. Prosecutors filed murder charges against Falu-Vives on Sept. 15.

Three other members of the unit were accused in the slayings of two soldiers. Bruce Bastien Jr. was sentenced last month to 60 years in prison. He pleaded guilty to accessory to murder in the December shooting death of Kevin Shields, and conspiracy to commit murder in the August 2007 death of Robert James.

Bastien, and co-defendant Kenneth Eastridge, both agreed to testify against fellow Iraq war veteran Louis Bressler, the alleged triggerman.

Eastridge pleaded guilty July 11 to accessory to murder in Shields' death and will be sentenced Nov. 3. Bressler is scheduled to go on trial in the Shield slaying Nov. 3, while his trial in the James homicide is scheduled for Dec. 1.

"Those who committed these violent crimes should be brought to justice," said Salazar. "But these tragedies also raise a number of questions from the backgrounds and service records of these soldiers, to whether they received waivers to enter the service, to the adequacy of mental health screening and treatment within the Army."

Falu-Vives and Torres-Gandarilla, accused together in one case and Bastien, Bressler and Eastridge, accused in the two slayings, served in Iraq last year with the 2nd Battalion of the 4th Brigade Combat Team. There weren't any immediate indications that both sets of men knew each other.

Marko was a mortarman with Charlie Company, 3rd Squadron, 61st Cavalry Regiment, of the 4th BCT and served from February 2007 until February of this year.

--submitted by Patti Woodard

Friday, October 17, 2008

'In a Way, It’s Surprising That There Aren’t More Bodies Piling up at Military Bases All Over This Nation'

Published on Thursday, October 16, 2008 by

Military Town Newspaper Challenges US Military on Murder of Military Women

by Ann Wright

The October 14, 2008 editorial "Our View: Military domestic violence needs more aggressive prevention." ( focused on the murder of four military women in North Carolina in the Fayetteville, NC Observer and contained a startling comment: "In a way, it's surprising that there aren't more bodies piling up at military bases all over this nation." The Observer is the newspaper that serves Fort Bragg, one of the military's largest bases.

The editorial was in response to the vigil held on October 8 at the gates of Fort Bragg to commemorate the murder of four US military women in North Carolina in the past nine months and to call for action to prevent more murders by members of the US military.

In a nine month period from December 2007 to September, 2008, four U.S. military women were killed by military men near the Army's Fort Bragg and the Marine Corps' Camp Lejeune, two military mega-bases in North Carolina.

Three of the women were in the Army. The latest murder victim was 29-year-old US Army Sergeant Christina Smith who was killed September 30, 2008. Her husband, Fort Bragg Sgt. Richard Smith, 26, was arrested and charged with first-degree murder and conspiracy. Also arrested was 18-year-old Mathew Kvapil, a private first class at Fort Bragg.

Spc. Megan Touma was seven months pregnant when her body was found inside a Fayetteville hotel room June 21, 2008. A married male soldier whom she knew in Germany has been arrested.

The estranged Marine husband of Army 2nd Lt. Holley Wimunc, an Army nurse at Fort Bragg, has been arrested in her death and the burning of her body.

Marine Lance Cpl. Maria Lauterbach had been raped in May 2007 and protective orders had been issued against the alleged perpetrator, fellow Marine Cpl. Cesar Laurean. The burned body of Lauterbach and her unborn baby were found in a shallow grave in the backyard of Laurean's home in January 2008. Laurean fled to Mexico, where he was captured by Mexican authorities.

He is currently awaiting extradition to the United States to stand trial. Lauterbach's mother testified before Congress on July 31, 2008, that the Marine Corps ignored warning signs that Laurean was a danger to her daughter.

In 2002, four military spouses were murdered at Fort Bragg by their Special Forces husbands after they returned from Afghanistan.

The Observer editorial was remarkable in its clarity on the causes and connections of domestic and state-sponsored violence:

"It's an old argument. We train men, and now women, to wage war, then we are baffled when they do that to each other. It is driven in times of war by a national culture that can extol violence, conflating it with patriotism. And don't overlook the general population raised on a steady diet of malevolence disguised as entertainment.

In a way, it's surprising that there aren't more bodies piling up at military bases all over this nation. We are certain, nevertheless, that the demonstrators (at the gates of Fort Bragg) were on to something that we as a community need to address. This may become an epidemic that threatens us all. It is a problem we, as a community, military and civilian, can't ignore. It is also a problem that we have not, so far, effectively solved." On the morning of the commemoration, the father of 2LT Holley (James) Winunc sent a message to the Quaker House, one of the sponsors of the October 8 vigil. Mr. James thanked the individuals and organizations for the tribute to Holly and the other murdered women and wrote "There will be no end to our grief. They say time heals, it hasn't started to heal for us. We visit the cemetery and mourn daily for Holley and anguish over the senseless way in which she was taken from us. Holly's children Tre and Kendell, 7 and 3 years old respectfully, will never really know their Mom. Years from now they will spend time looking through the things we've saved from their Mother's life and wonder "what might have been." We appreciate that you offer hope and help to others. It is our wish and prayer that not another family will have to go through this."

Another survivor of military domestic violence joined the vigil. Christine Horne flew from Coconut Grove, Florida to commemorate the deaths of four military and to mourn her own mother's death. 34 years ago in 1974, when she was 9 years old and her brother was 5, their Special Forces father murdered their mother in their home just off Fort Bragg by stabbing her over 50 times. In a military court martial, her father received a life sentence for the murder, but was released after 12 years in prison.

The Observer editorial acknowledged that "The Army has made a good-faith effort to provide programs and services to prevent domestic violence and save lives. But it's not enough. The effort must be redoubled, the violence studied more carefully, and the intervention waged even more aggressively... The recent spate of murders underscores the fact that domestic violence remains a significant problem here. Whatever preventive action is being taken at Fort Bragg, it isn't enough."Because the preventive action being taken by the military is not enough, 40 women and men from around North Carolina and the nation stood at the Fort Bragg entrance gate to commemorate the deaths and call for action to prevent any others. We were greeted by many honks of agreement from cars going onto the base and several military spouses came out to join us. Sadly, no one from military command authority nor from the prevention of domestic violence offices at Fort Bragg made the effort to come to the gates to talk about the ending the epidemic of violence.

Ann Wright is a retired Army Reserve colonel and a 29-year veteran of the Army and Army Reserves. She was also a diplomat in Nicaragua, Grenada, Somalia, Uzbekistan, Kyrgyzstan, Sierra Leone, Micronesia, Afghanistan and Mongolia. She resigned from the Department of State on March 19, 2003, in opposition to the Iraq war. She has written several articles on violence against women in the military including "Sexual Assault in the Military: A DoD Cover-Up?" , "U.S. Military Keeping Secrets About Female Soldiers' ‘Suicides'?" and "Is There an Army Cover Up of Rape and Murder of Women Soldiers?".

She is also the co-author of the book "Dissent: Voices of Conscience" (

Tuesday, October 14, 2008

Friendly Fire in Iraq -- and a cover-up

The Army says no, but a graphic video and eyewitness testimony indicate that a U.S. tank killed two American soldiers. The mother of one soldier demands answers.

By Mark Benjamin

Oct. 14, 2008 PHILADELPHIA — Once a cop, always a cop. Asked if she wanted to see a graphic battle video showing her son Albert bleeding to death, Jean Feggins, retired from the Philadelphia Police Department, said yes.

“Listen, I’ve moved dead bodies of people I don’t even know,” she told me, as she sat on a brown couch in the den of her West Philadelphia row house. “I need to know everything. Because he is not a stranger. That’s my baby. That’s my child.”

When Pfc. Albert Nelson died in Iraq in 2006, the Army first told Feggins that he might have been killed by friendly fire, and then that it was enemy mortars. She says she never believed the Army’s explanation. “I always felt like they were lying to me,” she said. “I could never prove it.”

“I would ask the casualty officer what was going on. I’d be told they are still working on the report,” she said. “They were still doing their investigation. What could I do? It’s the U.S. military. I had no control.”

She did not know that there was a video of his death until I contacted her recently. Salon has obtained evidence — including a graphic, 52-and-a-half minute video — suggesting that friendly fire from an American tank killed two U.S. soldiers in Ramadi, Iraq, in late 2006, and that the Army ignored the video and other persuasive data in order to rule that the deaths were due to enemy action. Feggins watched the video with me in her den.

Read the rest of this article at

Friday, October 10, 2008

Cornyn seeking probe into Army recruiter suicides

Senator cites 'very troubling' allegations

By LINDSAY WISE Copyright 2008 Houston Chronicle

Oct. 9, 2008, 11:32PM

In March 2007, Sgt. Nils Aron Andersson, 25, shot himself to death in a Houston parking garage.

U.S. Sen. John Cornyn on Thursday called for an independent probe into a string of suicides among Houston-based Army recruiters, citing "very troubling" allegations that the chain of command interfered with official investigations in order to cover up a toxic leadership climate and low morale.

The Houston battalion has lost five recruiters to suicide since 2001, including two in the past two months.

Cornyn, a member of the Senate Committee on Armed Services, detailed his concerns in a letter sent Thursday to Secretary of the Army Pete Geren.

In the letter, the Republican senator said he recently heard from numerous Army recruiters and their family members who claim to have direct knowledge of "serious problems" within the Houston battalion.

They told Cornyn that certain leaders in the battalion have attempted to block investigating officers from meeting with material witnesses and "strongly suggested" to subordinate officers that they should avoid portraying the chain of command in an unfavorable light, even if it meant lying in their statements to authorities.

"These allegations, if true, point to criminal misconduct punishable under the Uniform Code of Military Justice," Cornyn wrote. "In addition, such actions would absolutely undermine and call into question the findings and conclusions of these investigations.

Should these claims be substantiated, the relevant individuals must be held fully accountable for their misconduct and the resultant problems with the Houston Recruiting Battalion."

Cornyn said the constituents who contacted him also accused the battalion's senior leadership of "improper and unprofessional" practices such as mass punishment, organized hazing, and confrontational "counseling sessions," in which recruiters who fail to fill their monthly quotas are insulted and threatened with being kicked out of the Army.

'Cultural disconnect'

The senator said he's particularly disturbed by reports of unreasonably long work hours and seven-day weeks that have "constrained recruiters' family time and stressed their marriages."

Cornyn asked Geren to appoint an outside investigator to review the allegations and requested a copy of the report.

The senator said he also is concerned about a "cultural disconnect" between detailed recruiters, who are assigned to recruiting duty, and permanent recruiters, who choose recruiting as their military career speciality. Permanent recruiters are non-deployable, Cornyn said, and might have trouble relating to detailed recruiters under their command, many of whom recently served in Iraq and Afghanistan. He said efforts to encourage permanent recruiters to volunteer for deployment don't go far enough, and suggested the Army reconsider its policy of granting permanent recruiters non-deployable status.

A spokesman for Geren's office, Lt. Colonel David Patterson Jr., said he would be unable to respond to written questions about Cornyn's letter before today. U.S. Army Recruiting Command and the Houston Recruiting Battalion declined to comment.

The battalion's three most recent suicides all occurred within the past year and a half.

Sgt. 1st Class Patrick Henderson, 35, hanged himself in a shed behind his house on Sept. 20. He died six weeks after another recruiter, Staff Sgt. Larry Flores Jr., 26, hanged himself in his garage.

Suicides on the rise

Henderson, an Iraq veteran, worked at a station in Longview. Flores, who served in Iraq and Afghanistan, was station commander in Nacogdoches. Both men belonged to the battalion's Tyler Company.

In March 2007, 25-year-old Sgt. Nils Aron Andersson shot himself to death in a Houston parking garage. Andersson, a two-tour Iraq veteran, was assigned to the Houston battalion's Rosenberg station.

The recruiters' deaths come at a time when suicides among all active duty soldiers are on track to set a record for the second year in a row. Last year, 115 soldiers committed suicide. By the end of August this year, 93 soldiers had killed themselves.

For the first time since the Vietnam War, the Army's suicide rate is on track to exceed that of the general U.S. population, Army officials say.

Amid intensive efforts to reduce overall suicides, however, little attention has so far been paid to the unique pressures facing returning veterans assigned to high-stress noncombat jobs like recruiting.

In the wake of the suicides at the Houston battalion, that could change, veterans advocates say.

"The mental health toll of this war is really high, and especially if they've done two tours or more, that's a recipe for disaster," said Paul Sullivan, executive director of Veterans for Common Sense.


• Veterans experiencing emotional and suicidal crisis, as well as their concerned family members or friends, have immediate access to emergency counseling services 24 hours a day, seven days a week by calling 800-273-TALK (8255).

• For information on suicide warning signs visit

• The Army's Battlemind Training System is a mental health awareness and education program that helps prepare soldiers and their families for the stresses of war and assists with the detection of possible mental health issues before and after deployment. Visit .

• Soldiers in crisis should talk to their chaplain, chain of command or a fellow soldier immediately. They may also call Military OneSource at 800-342-9647 or the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline at 800-SUICIDE.

• Call the Wounded Soldier and Family Hotline at 800-984-8523or e-mail

RELATED ITEMS Widow pleads for recruiting overhaul See Cornyn's follow-up letter to the Army Houston soldiers' suicides prompt scrutiny Cornyn voices concerns in Sept. 25 letter to Army One Houston Army recruiter's pain leads to two suicides (May 18)

Annual number of suicides of active-duty soldiers since 2000 The Army's rising suicide rate

Thursday, October 09, 2008

Army Widow Sues U.S. Over Suicide

By Maryclaire Dale

The Associated PressPosted : Wednesday Oct 8, 2008 14:02:30 EDT

PHILADELPHIA — The widow of an Iraq war veteran who committed suicide while in outpatient care for depression at a Veterans Affairs hospital has sued the federal government for negligence.

Tiera Woodward, 26, claims in her lawsuit that her late husband, Donald, sought treatment at a VA hospital in Lebanon after three failed suicide attempts but wasn’t seen by a psychiatrist for more than two months.

She says doctors were slow to diagnose Donald with major depression. A psychiatrist diagnosed him Feb. 2, 2006, about a month before he died, the lawsuit states. But the psychiatrist failed to schedule a follow-up meeting with Donald after he informed the doctor he had gone off his medication.

Donald deployed to Iraq with the Army in March 2003 and saw five months of active combat. Upon his return, he got a job and enrolled in college, but by July 2005, his mother says, he had become “different, quiet and withdrawn.”

“I intend to make them make changes,” said Donald Woodward’s mother, Lori Woodward. “I have too many friends whose kids are in Iraq. I have a nephew now in Iraq, in the same unit, and I can’t have my family go through this again.”

Alison Aikele, a VA spokeswoman in Washington, D.C., said the agency does not typically comment on pending litigation.

Tiera Woodward filed the lawsuit only after the government failed to respond to her SF-95 form, a claim for death benefits that she filed Aug. 9, 2006. The claim was for $2 million.

The lawsuit seeks an unspecified amount of compensation for Donald Woodward's funeral and related expenses, loss of earnings and for pain and suffering.

It echoes other lawsuits nationwide over VA mental health services, despite legislation President Bush signed in November ordering improvements.

The family of Marine Jeffrey Lucey, also 23, has a federal suit pending in Massachusetts over his June 2004 suicide. And two veterans groups sued the VA in San Francisco seeking an overhaul of its health system, citing special concerns about mental health, but a judge dismissed the suit in June over venue issues.

More than 150,000 Iraq and Afghanistan war veterans have already sought mental health care from the VA, and another 200,000 have sought medical care, according to Veterans for Common Sense, veterans group that sued VA in San Francisco seeking an overhaul of its health system, citing special concerns about mental health. A judge dismissed the suit in June over venue issues.
“Each tragic veteran suicide is yet another painful reminder of the human cost of the Iraq and Afghanistan wars and VA’s abject failure to provide timely and appropriate mental health care,” said Paul Sullivan, the group’s executive director. “How many wake-up calls does VA need?”

--submitted by Patti W00dard

Pvt. Charged in Gang Beating Death of Sergeant

The Associated PressPosted : Wednesday Oct 8, 2008 14:00:09 EDT

BERLIN — A soldier has been charged in the gang-related beating death of another soldier at a base in Germany, the military said Wednesday.

Pvt. Bobby D. Morrissette was charged with involuntary manslaughter, conspiracy to commit aggravated assault, two counts of participation in gang initiation rituals and several other offenses, the military said in a statement.

The charges relate to the beating death of Sgt. Juwan Johnson, of Baltimore, on July 4, 2005 in Kaiserslautern, Germany.

The Army released no further details, but at the trial of others involved in the case witnesses testified that at least six members of the Gangster Disciples gang beat Johnson during a gang initiation ritual.

Johnson’s mother, Stephanie Cockrell, told The Associated Press in 2005 that she had spoken to her son the day before his death and he told her he was coming home in two weeks after completing an 18-month tour of duty in Iraq.

“I slept a little easier knowing he was out of Iraq and coming home soon,” she said at the time. “I just can’t believe he survived Iraq, but died in his own bed.”

Morrissette is assigned to the 1st Cargo Transfer Company, 18th Combat Sustainment Support Battalion in Grafenwoehr, Germany.

He was charged Tuesday, and no date has yet been set for his court-martial, the military said.
The military said it had no information on whether an attorney for Morrissette had been appointed.

--submitted by Patti Woodard

Tuesday, October 07, 2008

'My Daughter’s Dream Became a Nightmare': The Murder of Military Women Continues

Published on Monday, October 6, 2008 by

by Ann Wright

"My daughter's dream became a nightmare," sadly said Gloria Barrios, seven months after her daughter, US Air Force Senior Airman Blanca Luna, was murdered on Sheppard Air Force Base, Texas.

On March 7, 2008, Senior Airman Luna, 27, was found dead in her room at the Sheppard Air Force Base Inn, an on-base lodging facility. She had been stabbed in the back of the neck with a short knife. Luna, an Air Force Reservist with four years of prior military service in the Marine Corps including a tour in Japan, was killed three days before she was to graduate from an Air Conditioning, Ventilation and Heating training course.

When she was notified of her daughter's death, she was handed a letter from Major General K.C. McClain, Commander of the Air Force Personnel Center, which stated that her daughter "was found dead on 7 March 2008 at Sheppard Air Force Base, Texas, as the result of an apparent homicide." When her body was returned to her family for burial, Barrios and other family members saw bruises on Blanca's face and wounds on her fingers as if she were defending herself. One of the investigators later told Mrs. Barrios that Blanca had been killed in an "assassin-like" manner. Friends say that she told them some in her unit "had given her problems."

Seven months later, Luna's mother made her first visit to the base where her daughter was killed to pry more information about her daughter's death from the Air Force. Although the Air Force sent investigators to her home in Chicago several times to brief her on the case, she was concerned that the Air Force would not provide a copy of the autopsy report and other documents, seven months after Luna was killed. The Air Force says it cannot provide Mrs. Barrios with a copy of the autopsy as the investigation is "ongoing." Mrs. Barrios plans to have an independent autopsy conducted.

She was accompanied by her sister and six persons from a support group in Chicago and by several concerned Texans from Dallas, Fort Worth and Denton. The Chicago support group, composed of long time, experienced social justice activists in the Hispanic community, also included Juan Torres, whose son John, an Army soldier, was found dead under very suspicious circumstances in 2004 at Bagram Air Base in Afghanistan. Because of his battle to get documents from the Army bureaucracy on the death of his son four years ago, Torres has been helping the Barrios family in their effort to gain information about the death of Luna.

When Mrs. Barrios and friends arrived on the Air Base they were greeted by five Air Force officials. Mrs. Barrios requested that her support group be allowed to join her in an Air Force conducted bus tour of the facilities where her daughter went to school and the lodging facility where she was found dead, but the request was denied. Mrs. Barrios then asked that her friend and translator Magda Castaneda and retired US Army Colonel Ann Wright be allowed to go on the bus and attend the meeting with the base commander and investigators.

After consultation with the base public affairs officer, the deputy Wing Commander Colonel Norsworthy decreed that only Mrs. Barrios' sister and Mr. Torres could accompany her. Neither Mrs. Barrios, her sister or Mr. Torres is fluent in English. Mrs. Barrios told the Air Force officers she did not feel comfortable with having translators provided by the Air Force and again asked that Mrs. Castaneda be allowed to translate for her as Mrs. Castaneda had done numerous times during Air Force briefings at her home. She asked that retired US Army Colonel Ann Wright be allowed to go as she knew the military bureaucracy.

In front of the support group, the Air Force public affairs officer George Woodward advised Colonel Norsworthy not to allow Mrs.Casteneda and Colonel Wright to come on the base and attend the meetings as both were "outspoken in the media and their presence would jeopardize the integrity of the meeting with the family."

Mrs. Castaneda countered that during a previous meeting with the Air Force investigators in Chicago, she had been told by one investigator that she asked too many questions. Could that be the reason that she unable to accompany Mrs. Barrios, she asked? Mrs. Barrios also reminded the officers that after she was interviewed for an article about her daughter that was published in July in the Chicago Reader "Murder on the Base" (, she was warned by an Air Force official not to speak to the media again.

Mrs. Castaneda demanded that Woodward provide her a copy of the article on which he based his decision to recommend to the deputy base commander that she not be allowed on the base and translate for the family. Several hours later Woodward gave Castaneda an article from Indy media in which she was quoted as the translator for Mrs. Barrios in which she had translated Barrios' statement that "Luna a four year Marine veteran."

While Colonel Wright (the author of this article) has written numerous articles concerning the rape and murder of women in the military, she reminded the officers that she holds a valid military ID card as a retired Colonel, that she had not violated any laws or military regulations by writing and speaking about issues of violence against women in the military and that most families of military members who have been killed are at a disadvantage in dealing with the military bureaucracy in finding answers to the questions they have about the deaths of their loved ones. She reminded the officials that the parents of NFL football player Pat Tillman, who after three Congressional hearings on the death of their son in Afghanistan in 2002, still don't have the answers to the questions of who killed their son and why hasn't the perpetrator of the crime been brought to justice. Families of "ordinary" service members, and particularly families limited knowledge of the military and with limited financial means find themselves at the mercy of the military for information.

The base Catholic Chaplain and the Staff Judge Advocate, both colonels, were silent during the exchange. One would have thought that perhaps a chaplain who watched as Mrs. Barrios, a single mother whose only daughter had been killed and whose English was minimal, broke down in tears and sat sobbing on the curb as the public affairs officer described her friends as "outspoken and a threat to the integrity of the meetings" would have been sensitive to a grieving mother's need for a family friend who had translated in all the previous meetings with the Air Force investigators-but he was silent. Likewise, the senior lawyer on the base who no doubt had handled many criminal cases, would have recognized that a distraught mother would need someone who could take notes and understand the nuances of the discussion in English during the very stressful discussions with the investigators-but he was silent. Instead, the colonels bowed to the civilian public affairs officer's advice that "outspoken" women were a threat to the "integrity of the meeting."

Eventually, Mrs. Barrios, her sister Algeria and Juan Torres met with Brigadier General Mannon, the commander of the 82nd Training Wing and with three members of the Office of Special Investigations. Mrs. Barrios said they were given no new information about the investigation and questioned again why her friends, who over the past seven months have been a part of the briefings from the Air Force, had been kept out of meetings where the Air Force officials knew they were not going to provide any new information.

Since 2003 there have been 34 homicides and 218 "self-inflicted" deaths (suicides) in the Air Force and in 2007-2008 alone, 5 homicides and 35 "self-inflicted" deaths according to the Public Affairs office of the 82nd Training Wing at Sheppard Air Force base.

On the same day Mrs. Barrios went to Sheppard Air Force Base, October 3, 2008, the US Army announced that a US Army woman sergeant had been killed near Fort Bragg, North Carolina by a stab wound in the neck. Sergeant Christina Smith, 29, was stabbed on September 30, 2008, allegedly by her US Army husband Sergeant Richard Smith who was accompanied by Private First Class Matthew Kvapil.

Smith was the fourth military woman murdered in North Carolina in the past 9 months.
On June 21, 2008, US Army Specialist Megan Touma, 23, was killed inside a Fayetteville, NC hotel, less than two weeks after she arrived at Fort Bragg from an assignment in Germany. She was seven months pregnant. Sergeant Edgar Patino, a married male soldier assigned to Fort Bragg whom Touma knew from Germany and who reportedly was the father of the unborn child, has been arrested for her murder.

On July 10, 2008, Army 2nd Lt. Holley Wimunc, an Army nurse at Fort Bragg, was killed. Her estranged husband, Marine Corporal John Wimunc of Camp Lejeune, NC has been arrested in her death and the burning of her body and Lance Corporal Kyle Alden was arrested for destroying evidence and providing a false alibi.

Marine Lance Cpl. Maria Lauterbach had been raped in May 2007 and protective orders had been issued against the alleged perpetrator, fellow Marine Cpl. Cesar Laurean. The burned body of Lauterbach and her unborn baby were found in a shallow grave in the backyard of Laurean's home in January 2008. Laurean fled to Mexico, where he was captured by Mexican authorities. He is currently awaiting extradition to the United States to stand trial. Lauterbach's mother testified before Congress on July 31, 2008, that the Marine Corps ignored warning signs that Laurean was a danger to her daughter .

On Wednesday, October 8, at 11:30am, a vigil for the four military women and all victims of violence will be held at the Main Gate at Fort Bragg followed by a discussion on violence against women at the Quaker Peace Center in Fayetteville, NC and a wreath laying at Lafayette Memorial Park. The events are sponsored by the Coalition to End Domestic Violence and Sexual Assault in the Military, Veterans for Peace and the Quaker Peace Center.

Ann Wright is a retired Army Reserve colonel and a 29-year veteran of the Army and Army Reserves. She was also a diplomat in Nicaragua, Grenada, Somalia, Uzbekistan, Kyrgyzstan, Sierra Leone, Micronesia, Afghanistan and Mongolia. She resigned from the Department of State on March 19, 2003, in opposition to the Iraq war. She has written several articles on violence against women in the military including "Sexual Assault in the Military: A DoD Cover-Up?" , "U.S. Military Keeping Secrets About Female Soldiers' ‘Suicides'?" and "Is There an Army Cover Up of Rape and Murder of Women Soldiers?". She is also the co-author of the book "Dissent: Voices of Conscience" (