Monday, September 21, 2009

Army Suicide Data for August 2009

The Army released suicide data for the month of August today. Among active duty soldiers, there were 11 potential suicides, all of which are pending determination of the manner of death. In July, the Army reported no confirmed suicides and eight potential suicides among active duty soldiers. However, since the release of the July report, an additional four potential suicides have been reported, each of which is pending determination of the manner of death. As a result, for the month of July, there were 12 potential suicides. Two of those have been confirmed as suicides and ten remain under investigation.

There were 110 reported active duty Army suicides from January 2009 through August 2009. Of those, 71 have been confirmed, and 39 are pending determination of manner of death. For the same period in 2008, there were 89 suicides among active duty soldiers.

During August 2009, among reserve component soldiers who were not on active duty, there were six potential suicides. Among that same group, from January 2009 through August 2009, there were 20 confirmed suicides. Thirty-four potential suicides are currently under investigation to determine the manner of death. For the same period in 2008, there were 36 suicides among reserve soldiers who were not on active duty.

"Effective suicide prevention programs and resources that are accessible to our soldiers and families are a crucial part of our effort, and we're making progress in these areas," said General Peter W. Chiarelli, Army Vice Chief of Staff. "We recognize that the crucial link in preventing suicides is caring, concerned, and decisive small-unit leadership. There will never be a substitute for noncommissioned officers who know their soldiers, know when a soldier is suffering, and have the moral courage to act and get that soldier the help that they need."

Since publishing the Army Campaign Plan for Health Promotion, Risk Reduction, and Suicide Prevention on April 16, 2009, the Army has implemented numerous improvements to its suicide prevention programs. Among those improvements are Army-wide guidance for delivering health promotion, risk reduction, and suicide prevention programs and services directly to soldiers and their families at the installation level.

Soldiers and families in need of crisis assistance should contact Military OneSource or the Defense Center of Excellence (DCOE) for Psychological Health and Traumatic Brain Injury Outreach Center. Trained consultants are available from both organizations 24 hours a day, 7 days a week, 365 days a year.

The Military OneSource toll-free number for those residing in the continental United States is 1-800-342-9647, and their Web site address is . Overseas personnel should refer to the Military OneSource Web site for dialing instructions for their specific location. The DCOE Outreach Center can be contacted at 1-866-966-1020, via electronic mail at , and at .

The Army's most current suicide prevention information is located at

--verbatim DOD bulletin

Tuesday, September 15, 2009

Krakauer Explores Pat Tillman's Death And Cover-Up : NPR

Krakauer Explores Pat Tillman's Death And Cover-Up : NPR

To access the story, click here.

Listen to the Story
All Things Considered

[7 min 32 sec]

--submitted by Patti Woodard

Sunday, September 13, 2009

Corpsman pleads guilty to role in deadly game

By Trista Talton - Staff writer
Posted : Sunday Sep 13, 2009 10:38:31 EDT

CAMP LEJEUNE, N.C. — A Navy corpsman pleaded guilty Wednesday to charges he pointed a loaded gun at a Marine in his unit while playing a dangerous game called “Trust.”

Hospital Corpsman 2nd Class Spencer Hamer, 23, was sitting in the back of a Mine Resistant Ambush Protected vehicle in Iraq in November 2008 when he aimed his 9mm at Lance Cpl. Emerson Boutin and asked “Do you trust me?” The game was popular with members of their unit, 2nd section, Scout Platoon, 2nd Tank Battalion, and ultimately resulted in the death of another Marine from their battalion, military investigators say.

A military judge sentenced Hamer to two months in the brig and reduction in rank to hospitalman. During his special court-martial at Camp Lejeune, where 2nd Tanks is based, he pleaded not guilty to additional charges of dereliction of duty and failure to report.

Hamer is at least the third member of his section to be punished for playing Trust.

Lance Cpl. Patrick Malone died in Iraq on March 10, investigators say, after Cpl. Mathew Nelson allegedly shot him during a game of Trust. Nelson is expected to plea guilty Thursday to involuntary manslaughter and several counts of reckless endangerment, Marine officials say.

The Trust game was typically instigated by a noncommissioned officer who would partially insert a magazine into his M9 and pretend to rack the slide so it would appear a round was in the chamber, Marines in the unit told investigators after Malone’s death. The Marine holding the gun would then ask a junior Marine, “Do you trust me?” before either pulling the trigger or lowering the gun and clearing it.

Additional articles about this incident:

From the AP

Can deadly trust game be stopped?

Friday, September 04, 2009

Defense Task Force on the Prevention of Suicide by Members of the Armed Forces

The Office of the Assistant Secretary of Defense for Health Affairs announced today the names of 14 members who will serve on the Department of Defense Task Force on the Prevention of Suicide by Members of the Armed Forces.

The congressionally directed task force will address trends and causal factors, methods to update prevention and education programs, suicide assessment by occupation, suicide incident investigations, and protective measures for confidential information derived from investigations for the department.

"One service member suicide is too many and DoD is taking a proactive and comprehensive approach towards prevention, with efforts to address the stigma of psychological health issues, reduce barriers to care and research best practices," said Ellen Embrey, performing the duties of assistant secretary of defense for health affairs. "The members of this task force have significant and varied experience in national suicide prevention, research, policy and clinical care that will play a critical role in guiding the Department of Defense in addressing this very serious issue."

The task force will operate within the Federal Advisory Committee Act guidelines as a subcommittee of the Defense Health Board, responsible to the Secretary of Defense, through the assistant secretary of defense for health affairs and the under secretary of defense for personnel and readiness.

Membership consists of, DoD and non-DoD experts, including at least one representative each from the Army, Navy, Air Force and Marine Corps and one family member with a background in working with military families.

The task force will present their findings and recommendations to the secretary of defense within twelve months. Following review by the secretary, the task force's report and recommendations will be sent to Congress.

The names and biographies of the task force members are available on the Military Health Care Web site at .

--verbatim Department of Defense release

Editor's Comment: May I respectfully request that the Department of Defense set up a murder prevention task force for members of the Armed Forces and a serious investigation team to make sure that suicides are not murders? That would go a long way to insure that members of the Armed Forces are not giving up their dignity as human beings and allowing themselves to be the victims of bullies and gangs within the Armed Forces.

It would also go a long way in giving comfort to the grieving families of Armed Forces' members who have been "suicided" or conveniently labeled suicides. Take the examples of Lavena Johnson or Kirk Vanderbur, where a finding of suicide was not only ludicrous, but also insulted the intelligence of those who care...

If the DOD and Congress are serious about addressing these problems, cases designated "suicide" where the families have reason to think otherwise should be reopened for serious re-investigation. Unfortunately, in many of these cases forensic evidence has been destroyed or was never properly collected in the first place.

Were I a member of the Armed Forces, this would be of great concern.

Tuesday, September 01, 2009

Father of soldier who committed suicide is on a quest for answers

From the El Paso Times:

'There's no way he could do what he did without being pushed to the limit'
By Ramon Bracamontes and Chris Roberts / El Paso Times
Posted: 08/31/2009 12:00:00 AM MDT

Pvt. Keiffer P. Wilhelm EL PASO -- Adrian Wilhelm, the father of a 19-year-old Fort Bliss private who killed himself four weeks ago in Iraq, is fueled by anger.

He's angry at the army. He's angry at Fort Bliss and at the 1st Armored Cavalry.

Most of all, he is enraged at the four soldiers who are charged with abusing his son, Pvt. Keiffer P. Wilhelm, through excessive physical training. It is this abuse, Adrian Wilhelm said, that probably caused his son to kill himself Aug. 4.

A Navy veteran, the elder Wilhelm said he wants to make sure nothing like this ever happens again to a U.S. soldier.

Adrian Wilhelm is publicly talking about his son, but the Army is not. And Adrian Wilhelm is trying to piece together exactly what happened in Iraq, as his son had only been there four days.

"The Army has sealed everything and stopped all communication," Wilhelm, 40, said from his home in Plymouth, Ohio. "I just can't understand what happened. I can't comprehend that these guys in a unit, as friends, go over there and beat on their own. I am fueled by anger and I'm not going to let this go."

Pvt. Wilhelm joined the Army in December and was assigned to a unit at Fort Bliss. He killed himself in southern Iraq, his father said. The army's official statement said he died of injuries from "a noncombat-related incident."

Two weeks after his death, on Aug. 20, four other Fort Bliss soldiers were charged with cruelty and maltreatment of subordinates. One of the subordinates was Keiffer Wilhelm.

Army says there is no direct evidence that the soldiers' alleged misconduct caused Wilhelm's death.
The four soldiers remain overseas and are awaiting a military hearing, which will be in Iraq. They were not arrested or detained, but were put on "present for duty" status and moved to a different base. They have been assigned military legal counsel.

Maj. Myles B. Caggins, public affairs officer for the 4th Brigade, 1st Armored Division, said no date for a hearing has been set because the Pvt. Keiffer P. Wilhelm investigation continues.

Wilhem and the four accused of abusing him were with the 2nd Battalion, 13th Cavalry Regiment. Approximately 200 soldiers were in the unit.

Adrian Wilhelm is trying to figure out why his son was targeted.

"I just don't understand how my son could be so happy one day and ready to deploy with his friends to Iraq to train Iraqi soldiers, and then this happens. It is still surprising."

Keiffer Wilhelm possessed a strong personality, his father said. Keiffer, a wrestler in high school, had survived boot camp and had lost weight.

"If he had any quirks it is that he was a nice guy and he would not stop making you laugh," Adrian Wilhelm said. "Somehow, no matter what, there was always another joke ready to come from him."

The last time Adrian Wilhelm saw Keiffer alive was on May 7 during a family wedding in Arizona. Keiffer seemed happy, excited to be deploying. He was talking about buying a car in El Paso and an iPhone, his father said.

"There's no way he could do what he did without being pushed to the limit," Adrian Wilhelm said. "There has to be a way to stop this from ever happening again."

According to the Army, suicides among soldiers are on the rise and have surpassed the suicide rates for civilians, when compared on a per capita basis. The Army confirmed 128 suicides last year and an additional 15 suspected suicides among active-duty soldiers and the National Guard.

The rate of suicides is 20.2 per 100,000 in the Army. The suicide rate for civilians is 11 per 100,000 people.

In 2008, Fort Bliss had six confirmed suicides.

One of them was Spc. Manny Zavala, 26, who hanged himself Dec. 3 at his El Paso apartment.

"He spoke in a letter he left that he had this pain and he didn't know how to take care of it and he was sorry for what he was going to do," said the soldier's mother, Rosario Zavala. Her son was a Fort Bliss combat medic who had never deployed.

Manny Zavala had talked to the Fort Bliss medical staff about his problems.

"Three months prior, he had gone to get help and they gave him tranquilizers," his mother said.

She could see his pain.

"I would say, 'Hijo, let's get some help.' But he would say 'No mom, I'm all right.'"

She thought things would be all right because her son had received a new assignment at Yuma Proving Ground in Arizona and was planning to live with his parents at home in Yuma.

"We fixed his room up," she said, her voice thickening with emotion. "But when he came home we had to bury him."

Army officials will only say that suicides are a problem they are trying to lessen. At Fort Campbell, Ky., all regular activity at the end of May was suspended to focus on suicide-prevention training. Fort Campbell, with 11 confirmed suicides, led the Army at that point. From January to March, the installation averaged a suicide per week.

Fort Bliss has had one confirmed suicide in 2009, officials said. Keiffer Wilhelm would be the second.

Ramon Bracamontes may be reached at rbracamontes@elpasotimes; 546-6142.

Chris Roberts may be reached at; 546-6135.