According to a recently published investigative report, made by The Hartford Courant US troops diagnosed as unstable are increasingly being kept in combat positions by using a combination of potent antidepressants and anti-anxiety drugs, but with minimal counseling or monitoring of their conditions. Also, FBI looking at soldiers with gang ties.
Despite a congressional order that the military assess the mental health of all deploying troops, fewer than 1 in 300 service members see a mental health professional before shipping out.
And some troops who developed post-traumatic stress disorder after serving in Iraq are being sent back to the war zone, increasing the risk to their mental health.
These practices, which have received little public scrutiny and in some cases violate the military's own policies, have helped to fuel an increase in the suicide rate among troops serving in Iraq, which reached an all-time high in 2005 when 22 soldiers killed themselves - accounting for nearly one in five of all Army non-combat deaths.
The Courant's investigation found that at least 11 service members who committed suicide in Iraq in 2004 and 2005 were kept on duty despite exhibiting signs of significant psychological distress. In at least seven of the cases, superiors were aware of the problems, military investigative records and interviews with families indicate, according to The Hartford Courant.
The following is the information about several awful cases of suicide in American army that investigators from The Hartford Courant managed to obtain.
Among the troops who plunged through the gaps in the mental health system was Army Spec. Jeffrey Henthorn, a young father and third-generation soldier, whose death last year is still being mourned by his native Choctaw, Okla.
What his hometown does not know is that Henthorn, 25, had been sent back to Iraq for a second tour, even though his superiors knew he was unstable and had threatened suicide at least twice, according to Army investigative reports and interviews. When he finally succeeded in killing himself on Feb. 8, 2005, at Camp Anaconda in Balad, Iraq, an Army report says, the work of the M-16 rifle was so thorough that fragments of his skull pierced the barracks ceiling.
In a case last July, a 20-year-old soldier who had written a suicide note to his mother was relieved of his gun and referred for a psychological evaluation, but then was accused of faking his mental problems and warned he could be disciplined, according to what he told his family. Three weeks later, after his gun had been handed back, Pfc. Jason Scheuerman, of Lynchburg , Va. , used it to end his life.
Also kept in the war zone was Army Pfc. David L. Potter, 22, of Johnson City, Tenn. , who was diagnosed with anxiety and depression while serving in Iraq in 2004. Potter remained with his unit in Baghdad despite a suicide attempt and a psychiatrist's recommendation that he be separated from the Army, records show. Ten days after the recommendation was signed, he slid a gun out from under another soldier's bed, climbed to the second floor of an abandoned building and shot himself through the mouth, the Army has concluded.
The spike in suicides among the all-volunteer force is a setback for military officials, who had pledged in late 2003 to improve mental health services, after expressing alarm that 11 soldiers and two Marines had killed themselves in Iraq in the first seven months of the war. When the number of suicides tumbled in 2004, top Army officials had credited their renewed prevention efforts.
But The Courant's review found that since 2003, the military has increasingly sent, kept and recycled troubled troops into combat - practices that undercut its assurances of improvements. Besides causing suicides, experts say, gaps in mental health care can cause violence between soldiers, accidents and critical mistakes in judgment during combat operations.
Military experts and advocates point to recruiting shortfalls and intense wartime pressure to maintain troop levels as reasons more service members with psychiatric problems are being deployed to the war zone and kept there.
Under the military's pre-deployment screening process, troops with serious mental disorders are not being identified - and others whose mental illness is known are being deployed anyway.
A law passed in 1997 requires the military to conduct an "assessment of mental health" on all deploying troops. But the "assessment" now being used is a single mental health question on a pre-deployment form filled out by service members.
Even using that limited tool, troops who self-report psychological problems are rarely referred for evaluations by mental health professionals, Department of Defense records obtained by The Courant indicate. From March 2003 to October 2005, only 6.5 percent of deploying service members who indicated a mental health problem were referred for evaluations; overall, fewer than 1 in 300 deploying troops, or 0.3 percent, were referred.
That rate of referral is dramatically lower than the more than 9 percent of deploying troops that the Army itself acknowledges in studieshave serious psychiatric disorders.
In addition, despite its pledges in 2004 to improve mental health care, the military was more likely to deploy troops who indicated psychological problems in 2005 than it was during the first year of the war, the data show.
The Courant found that at least seven, or about one-third, of the 22 soldiers who killed themselves in Iraq in 2005 had been deployed less than three months, raising questions about the adequacy of pre-deployment screening. Some of them had exhibited earlier signs of distress.
Military officials insist they have made aggressive efforts to improve mental health services to troops in Iraq in the past two years. After the spate of suicides in 2003, the Army dispatched a mental health advisory team, which issued a report recommending additional combat-stress specialists to treat troops close to the front lines, and encouraging training and outreach to reduce the stigma associated with mental health problems.
A follow-up report, released January 2005, cited the drop in suicides in 2004 as evidence that the Army's efforts were successful. It also highlighted a decline in the number of soldiers who were evacuated out of Iraq for mental health problems - from about 75 a month in 2003 to 36 a month in 2004. In 2005, an average of 46 soldiers were evacuated each month, Army data show.
Overall, barely more than one-tenth of 1 percent of the 1.3 million troops who have been deployed to Iraq and Afghanistan have been evacuated because of psychiatric problems.
Both advisory team reports recommended that soldiers with mental health problems be kept in the combat zone in order to improve return-to-duty rates and help soldiers avoid being labeled unfit.
MSNBC reports about that suicide rates overall in the Army in 2005 reached their highest levels since 1993. The overall suicide rate of the US Army has fluctuated from a high of 15.8 per 100,000 in 1985, to a low of 9.1 in 2001.
In the MSNBC story, military spokesman Col. Joseph Curtin said that while the military was not alarmed by the "slight increase," it takes suicide precaution very seriously.
“We have increased the number of combat stress teams, increased suicide prevention and training, and we are working very aggressively to change the culture so that soldiers feel comfortable coming forward with their personal problems in a culture where historically admitting mental health issues was frowned upon,” Curtin said.
About two weeks ago there appeared news about connections between US soldiers and gangs in the Chicago area.
Of particular concern are reports that the Folk Nation, consisting of more than a dozen gangs in the Chicago area, is placing young members in the military in an effort to gather information about weapons and tactics, said FBI Special Agent Andrea Simmons, who is based in El Paso, Texas.
"Our understanding is that they find members without a criminal history so that they can join, and once they get out, they will have a new set of skills that they can apply to criminal enterprises," Simmons said. "This could be a concern for any law enforcement agency that has to deal with gangs on a daily basis."
Chicago gang symbols can be found amid other graffiti, mostly in latrines on U.S. military bases such as Camp Fallujah in Iraq's Anbar Province.
Yet military investigators say the Soldiers who left those symbols had no gang affiliation and little knowledge of how gangs operate, military.com reports.
The Chicago Sun-Times reported May 1 that logos of the Gangster Disciples, Latin Kings and Vice Lords, three of Chicago's most violent gangs, had been showing up in Iraq.
Military and civilian police investigators familiar with three major Army bases in the United States – Fort Lewis , Fort Hood and Fort Bragg – said they have been focusing recently on soldiers with gang affiliations. These bases ship out many of the soldiers fighting in Iraq.
"I have identified 320 soldiers as gang members from April 2002 to present," said Scott Barfield, a Defense Department gang detective at Fort Lewis in Washington State. "I think that's the tip of the iceberg."
Mr. Barfield alleges that military recruiters are being told "less than five tattoos is not an issue." More than five, an applicant has to sign a form saying that he is not a member of a gang. Barfield blames the problem on a military that's trying to make up for recruiting shortfalls.
Prepared by Alexander Timoshik
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