Friday, December 25, 2009

Navy Attempted Suicide Rate Nearly 3 Percent

From The Navy Times:

By Kelly Kennedy - Staff writer
Posted : Thursday Dec 24, 2009 8:47:14 EST

Sailors attempted to commit suicide at rates significantly higher than the other services in 2008, according to a recent Defense Department-sponsored survey of service members.

The Navy’s attempted suicide rate — at 2.8 percent, or roughly 1 in every 35 sailors — was three times higher than in the previous survey, conducted in 2005.

Read the entire story by clicking here.

Wednesday, December 16, 2009

Picking up Patterns in Military “Investigations” of Non-combat Deaths: Part 5

In our group of 30 - 40 families, five of the non-combat deaths involved hanging. The two cases not mentioned as yet are those of MSSR Stephen Killian and Pfc. Jayson Coffman. Their tragic stories appear on our website, http://non-combat-death.org/.

You can click on the hyperlinks to read their stories, written by their grief-stricken mothers.

In the case of Stephen Killian, who was found hanged in Las Vegas, NV, it is ironic that in the home of the popular CIS, the civilian authorities refused to investigate because he was in the Navy. The also popular NCIS refused to investigate because he was found in a city distant from his base! If we are to believe from these television series that sensitive whiz-bang forensic technology is available to these giant entities, one wonders why the deaths of military personnel are not worthy of careful investigation to determine whether foul play was involved.

There is a large body of forensic information available to pathologists and coroners which has to do directly with the determination of hanging as a cause of death. Most of the families of these victims have done extensive research using these sources. It is possible to determine with certainty when a victim has been hung after death or a suicide has been staged.

Still, the families’ attempts to get answers are quashed.

Judy and Jeronimo Griego, parents of Ben Griego, wrote: “They showed us his room where they claimed he died. The CID wanted to close the case immediately, but because we had been given the copy of the DVD, and we were asking questions, the investigation was continued. Also our correspondence with the elected officials helped us in continuing the investigation.”

When they found missing pages in the investigation reports, they were told that they’d have to request them separately as the CID representative “didn’t know what had happened to them.”

Both Stephen and Jayson were labeled AWOL (absent without leave) when they were noticed to be missing. Jayson was found very close to his Army base, but the investigation was not particularly well done. His mother did not hear the details surrounding his death from official sources. This seems to be a common thread in all of these cases.

I often wonder why there is such poor investigation and the attempt to keep information from families. In most of these cases, the families have managed to determine that some of the “facts” they were told about the circumstances or crime scene, were not true.

Securing of Investigation Reports, Autopsy Reports, Crime Scene Photos, and the like are very hard for families. Most often, repeated requests and the intervention of Congressmen are the only way that families have been able to check the “facts” that they have been told.

In most of the cases I’ve discussed in this series, the young men were found with feet touching the ground. The Griegos wrote: “The closet bar was approximately 5’2” (high) and Ben was 6’ (tall).”

Their families had had recent contact with them; and they had been given no indication of problems serious enough to have caused them to commit suicide. In several of the cases there had been a phone call very close to the time of death. In a couple of the cases, the young man was due to be discharged shortly before death. In the majority of cases, forensic evidence was handled carelessly or destroyed before it could be analyzed.

Since hanging is neither a sure or painless method of suicide, it seems logical to assume that there is a likelihood of murder in all cases, which should have been ruled out by investigation.

Serious questions of logic and motivation go unaddressed in these cases. Discrepancies are ignored. In some cases, there is inaccurate information as simple as physical description, which appear in autopsy reports.

The military authorities are eager to close the cases and are not particularly curious about the possibility of murder by other military personnel. Do they feel that what goes on in the military should be kept as internal secrets? Is there no fear that murderers at large in the military would branch out to kill other military members, including officers?

Sometimes, the families are treated with disdain, even when notification of death is made. In the case of Nicholas Davis, his mother felt she was notified in a timely manner, but a relative overheard a police officer speaking to someone on the phone and as a result, she was the last of her immediate family to be informed of his death. The family was told that Nick’s death was “self-inflicted” before any investigation was done.

Kim Slapak said that the CID questioned her about Nick’s home life in order to draw possible reasons that he would be predisposed to suicide. This was a common thread in several of the cases. However, reports that groups of individuals had made threats against some of the victims doesn’t seem to have been investigated.

In Benjamin Griego’s case, his parents actually heard rumors of his death at an area Walmart long before they were formally notified!

During Ben’s videotaped “formal class on integrity”, he expressed some words which should be noted by the Military Services when dealing with families. Click on the arrow below on the short video clip to hear what he had to say.



video

Tuesday, December 15, 2009

LANNY L. DAVIS

I opened the mail one day a few years ago to find a letter from Lanny. Inside, was the feather of a hawk.

Lanny was at his home in Missouri and heard a commotion in his yard. He walked outside and saw a dove attacking a hawk. Apparently the dove had a nest nearby that the hawk had tried to disturb. The dove killed the hawk. The irony wasn't lost on Lanny that the dove, an eternal symbol of peace, had killed a hawk, an aggressive bird of prey. So, he plucked a couple of the hawk's feathers and sent one to me. I've kept it behind the sun visor in my car since the day I got it.

Lanny was a true “Missouri boy” as he always used to say. From a family of 10 brothers and sisters, he grew up on a farm in the Ozarks and deeply missed the green grass and lush trees. He was an irrepressible American and I think we all know how rare that is becoming in this world of political correctness that borders on the ridiculous.

Despite everything that happened to him he maintained that pride in this country; even when it came to the little things that are uniquely American. When he and I talked on the phone, he would sometimes pass the phone around to people and say “Here, talk to this lady, she is a genuine Georgia peach, just listen to that accent.”

He didn't apologize for his opinions and never tried to be something he was not. His dear friend Pat in St. Charles, recently told me that he knew something was terribly wrong when Lanny didn't return to Missouri in September as he had planned. “You could set your watch by Lanny's word” Pat said. “I knew it must be bad.” He was right about both.

Lanny Davis will be greatly missed. But even as I cry I know these are selfish tears. In reality, we should all be relieved that he is no longer suffering from painful cancer and the torturous grief that consumed him after Richard's murder. Most of all, we should try and rejoice that his soul is at long last reunited with his beloved son.

What a joyful reunion that must be.

Cilla McCain
--------------------------

Veteran who fought for murdered son, dies
Posted: Dec 14, 2009 6:19 PM EST
http://www.wtvm.com/global/story.asp?s=11676091

Saturday, December 12, 2009

Seeking Answers as to Why They Died

Stories of women killed in combat need to be told, Colonie vet says

To read the entire story, click here.

From the Albany Times Union

------------------
Link to Trailer for film about the death of Pvt. Lavena Johnson: The Silent Truth click here.

Is there an army cover up of the rape and murder of women soldiers?

Since the United States launched the Second Gulf War, ninety-four women in the Military have died in Iraq or during Operation Iraqi Freedom (OIF). Of these deaths, some twenty occurred under extremely suspicious circumstances. The Department of Defense has characterized these deaths as “non-combat related injuries,” and maintained that many of them are “suicides”.

“The Silent Truth” tells the story of nineteen year-old U.S. Army Private LaVena Johnson, who was found dead on the military base in Balad, Iraq in July, 2005. The United States Army ruled her death as a suicide resulting from a self-inflicted M-16 rifle shot wound.

Through interviews with Ms. Johnson’s parents, Dr. John and Linda Johnson, this documentary tells the story of a family’s struggle to find the truth, and to secure justice for their daughter. Dr. Johnson has maintained that from the day his daughter's body was returned to him, he had grave suspicions about the circumstances surrounding her death.

Colonel (Ret.) Ann Wright, co-author of Dissent: Voices of Conscience, is serving as a consultant on the film. She describes additional cases where the truth about female troops’ deaths has been silenced by cover-up.

Friday, December 11, 2009

Army Releases November Suicide Data

The Army released suicide data for the month of November today. Among active-duty soldiers, there were 12 potential suicides, all of which are pending determination of the manner of death. For October, the Army reported 16 potential suicides among active-duty soldiers. Since the release of that report, three have been confirmed as suicides, and 13 remain under investigation.
There were 147 reported active duty Army suicides from January 2009 through November 2009. Of these, 102 have been confirmed, and 45 are pending determination of manner of death. For the same period in 2008, there were 127 suicides among active-duty soldiers.

During November 2009, among reserve component soldiers who were not on active duty, there were two potential suicides. Among that same group, from January 2009 through November 2009, there were 71 reported suicides. Of those, 41 were confirmed as suicides, and 30 remain under investigation to determine the manner of death. For the same period in 2008, there were 50 suicides among reserve soldiers who were not on active duty.

In a media roundtable on Nov. 17, 2009, Gen. Peter W. Chiarelli, Army vice chief of staff, confirmed that the total number of suicides in the Army during 2009 had exceeded the total for 2008.

"We conduct an exhaustive review of every suicide within the Army," said Brig. Gen. Colleen McGuire, director, Suicide Prevention Task Force. "What we have learned is that there is no single or simple answer to preventing suicide. This tells us that we must continue to take a holistic approach to identifying and helping soldiers and families with issues such as behavioral health problems, substance abuse, and relationship failures."

Although operational tempo and frequent deployments are often cited as possible causes for the Army's increased suicide rate, data gathered through the Army's efforts has not shown a link between operational tempo and suicide.

"We have analyzed this part of the problem very closely," said Walter Morales, Army suicide prevention program manager. "So far, we just haven't found that repeated deployments and suicide are directly connected. Approximately 30 percent of suicides in the Army occur among those who have never deployed. Many others occur among those who have deployed once. This means we have to continue to reach the entire Army community with effective suicide prevention programs, for those who have deployed and those who haven't."

In addition to the Army's current campaign plan to improve the full spectrum of health promotion, risk reduction, and suicide prevention programs, the Army is testing pilot programs in virtual behavioral health counseling, enhanced behavioral health counseling before and after deployment, and expanded privacy protections for soldiers seeking substance abuse counseling.

For example, the Army recently completed the Virtual Behavioral Health Pilot Program (VBHPP) at Schofield Barracks, Hawaii. The VBHPP team is now analyzing the initial results to help the Army better determine whether the program should be expanded to additional units and locations. Army leaders can access current health promotion guidance in newly revised Army Regulation 600-63 (Health Promotion) at http://www.army.mil/usapa/epubs/pdf/r600_63.pdf and Army Pamphlet 600-24 (Health Promotion, Risk Reduction and Suicide Prevention) at http://www.army.mil/usapa/epubs/pdf/p600_24.pdf .

Soldiers and families in need of crisis assistance can 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, seven days a week, 365 days a year.

The Military OneSource toll-free number for those residing in the continental U.S. is 1-800-342-9647; their Web site address is http://www.militaryonesource.com . 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 Resources@DCoEOutreach.org , and at http://www.dcoe.health.mil .

The Army's comprehensive list of Suicide Prevention Program information is located at http://www.armyg1.army.mil/hr/suicide/default.asp .

More information about the Army's Comprehensive Soldier Fitness Program is located at http://www.army.mil/csf/ .

--verbatim, Official Department of Defense Announcement

Friday, December 04, 2009

DOD Task Force On Sexual Assault Submits Findings, Recommendations

The DoD Task Force on Sexual Assault in the Military Services recently submitted its congressionally-mandated report to the secretary of defense. The report finds DoD has made progress in improving the response to victims' needs, but calls for DoD to do more to fully address the spectrum of sexual assault prevention and response.

"Our recommendations highlight the need for institutional change to more effectively prevent sexual assault and address related issues. Doing so is not only ethically and morally correct, but also essential to military readiness – all the more critical at this time," said Louis Iasiello, task force co-chairman.

The task force made a number of recommendations involving DoD's Sexual Assault Prevention and Response Office, including: temporarily elevating oversight of this office to the jurisdiction of the deputy secretary of defense until the program meets established institutional goals; changing the budgeting process to overcome inconsistent funding among the military services; strengthening the policy and oversight functions of the office; calling for collaboration with the military services and national experts in sexual assault prevention to develop a comprehensive prevention strategy and a plan to routinely evaluate it; and more rigorous oversight of military service training programs.

The task force found DoD has made demonstrable progress in providing assistance to victims of sexual assault by offering restricted reporting, which permits a victim to obtain immediate care and counseling without engaging law enforcement and command authority.

The task force did recommend, however, that Congress should, as a permanent measure, enact a comprehensive military justice privilege for communications between a victim advocate and a victim of sexual assault.

Among the other recommendations:

· Ensure service members who report they were sexually assaulted are afforded the assistance of a nationally certified victim advocate.

· Ensure victims understand their rights, including the opportunity to consult with legal counsel to minimize victim confusion during the investigative process.

· Improve medical care for victims of sexual assault, particularly those in deployed areas.

· Ensure gender-appropriate care for male victims.

· Inform victims and service members of disciplinary actions related to sexual assault.

The task force based its assessment on data collected over a 15-month period at 60 sites around the world. Task Force members spoke to more than 3,500 people, interviewing active duty and reserve component victims of sexual assault and other military personnel. During their assessment, they also interviewed general court-martial convening authorities, legal and investigative officials, senior policy officials, sexual assault response coordinators, and victim advocates.

A copy of the full report can be found at http://www.dtic.mil/dtfsams/reports.html . The secretary of defense has 90 days to review, comment on and submit the report to Congress.

For more information regarding this release, media may contact Col. Cora Jackson-Chandler, 703-325-6494.

--reprinted verbatim from official Department of Defense announcement from December 4, 2009.

From the Seattle Weekly

A story about the alleged murderer of Staff Sgt. Timothy Miller and Sgt. Randi Miller at Ft. Lewis: click here to read.

Thursday, December 03, 2009

Wednesday, December 02, 2009

Soldier in suit over chemical is dead

reprinted from indystar.com

December 1, 2009

Guard commander said exposure to carcinogen in Iraq caused his cancer

By Jason Thomas
jason.thomas@indystar.com

A funeral is set today for a retired Indiana National Guard commander who testified in October that exposure to a lethal carcinogen in Iraq caused his cancer.

Lt. Col. James C. Gentry, 52, Williams, Ind., died of lung cancer Wednesday. His death is a poignant marker in a pending federal lawsuit; his life inspired a federal bill working its way through Congress.

Maj. Gen. R. Martin Umbarger, Indiana's top National Guard general, will attend the service at noon at Kraft Funeral Service in New Albany in Southern Indiana.

"He was a very good person who cared for his soldiers and his family," Lt. Col. Deedra Thombleson, the Indiana National Guard's public affairs officer, said of Gentry, who retired in February 2008 after 22 years of service. "He came forth and talked about the issues, hoping it would draw attention to what he and his soldiers had gone through."

Gentry, who was diagnosed with cancer in 2006, last spring joined a federal lawsuit filed in December 2008. It accuses Texas-based KBR and several related companies of concealing the risks faced by 136 Indiana National Guard soldiers potentially exposed to a cancer-causing agent, according to the Department of Veterans Affairs.

The suit originally was filed on behalf of 16 Indiana soldiers but has grown to 47 plaintiffs, including the family of a soldier, David Moore, Dubois, Ind., who died of a lung disease in 2008.

Most of the plaintiffs served with a Tell City unit sent to Iraq with the Indiana National Guard's 1st Battalion, 152nd Infantry Regiment, based in Jasper. For three months beginning in May 2003, the unit provided security for KBR employees charged with rebuilding the Qarmat Ali water-pumping plant near Basra.

The lawsuit says sodium dichromate, an industrial chemical normally used to remove pipe corrosion, contained heavy doses of the toxin and had been spread around the site, possibly by fleeing loyalists of ousted President Saddam Hussein.

The carcinogen, hexavalent chromium, is known to heighten the risk for cancer of the lungs and respiratory tract and is one of the most dangerous carcinogens rated by the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency, said Mike Doyle, the Houston-based lead attorney on the lawsuit.

Gentry, who commanded more than 600 soldiers, did not smoke.

The Indiana lawsuit is one of five across the country involving several hundred soldiers potentially exposed to the carcinogen, according to Doyle. Lawsuits have been filed in Oregon, West Virginia and Pittsburgh. In all, more than 600 troops from Indiana and three other states could have been exposed, according to the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs.

The Indiana suit claims many soldiers who served at the plant are developing rashes and other health problems.

"I don't know what kind of impact it will have on the lawsuit, but it's a terrible loss for his family and Indiana and the soldiers who served with him," Doyle said of Gentry's death.

The original complaint claims KBR had early indications of a chemical risk before the soldiers arrived.

"KBR's commitment to the safety and security of all employees, the troops and those we serve is the company's top priority," Heather L. Browne, the company's communications director, said in a statement. "KBR did not knowingly harm troops."

The last of Gentry's two depositions in the case came in October at his Southern Indiana home, where he had hoped to live out his retirement with his wife, LouAnn.

"His wife," Thombleson added, "does not want his death to be in vain."

A few weeks after the deposition, U.S. Sen. Evan Bayh, D-Ind., spoke with Gentry on the phone. His story and that of his fellow soldiers stirred Bayh to write the Health Care for Veterans Exposed to Chemical Hazards Act of 2009, which is now with the Senate Veterans Affairs Committee.

The legislation would make affected soldiers eligible for medical examinations, laboratory tests, hospital care and nursing services. It also would recognize a veteran's own report of exposure and include it in a Department of Defense registry.

Passage of the legislation would be a fitting tribute to a soldier who gave all, those who knew Gentry say.

"He was just a great people person and cared about his soldiers," Thombleson said. "His loyalty to his soldiers, even when he passed away, was still there."

Additional Facts
What's next
The Indiana lawsuit is set for trial Sept. 27 in the U.S. District Court for the Southern District of Indiana in Evansville.