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.


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