Reporter's Notebook: Soldier Suicides: veterans are killing themselves in record numbers
As of recently, soldiers killing themselves upon their return from combat has become all too familiar to Cheryl Softich, of Eveleth, Minn. Her son, Army Specialist Noah Pierce, 23, killed himself in July after deployment in Iraq.
He came home and was felt like he was a murderer. He said he killed a doctor while he was there; he mistook the doctor for a suicide bomber, his mother says.
Back home he couldn’t sleep at night. He was drinking all the time and the spark had drained from his eyes, Softich remembers.
“There were very few smiles that were genuine,” she says.
At the time of his death, Pierce, a member of the Army's Third Infantry Division, had plans for a third tour.
Unlike most parents and family members who are stonewalled by their sons and daughters in uniform who don’t want to speak about the trauma they experienced at war, Pierce journaled his experience in war, leaving behind a book of poetry.
"His writing just brings you to Iraq with him," says Softich, who published her son’s work in the California publication Rogue Voice.
In the poem “WTF” Pierce reflects on the accidental killing of the Iraqi doctor. "The investigation said it was done by the books / I ask myself, 'What the fuck kind of war is this?'"
In “Friends” Pierce writes about Iraqi kids who would give him food in exchange for water. "No english / No arabic / Yet we still understand each other."
He wrote about desert sandstorms in “Dust” and called Iraq a “godforgotten country,” where smoking is an imperative and the “girlfriends, the parties, the training /GONE” in a piece titled "2nd time."
Softich is on a one-woman mission to change the military's current mental health screening system for returning veterans.
Pierce, like the others in our feature on soldier suicides, passed post deployment medical and psychological tests which allowed him to come home sooner, his mother says.
“They know what to say to go home and it’s not, I need help,” Softich says forcefully. “Noah should have never have been sent back to combat for a second time without counseling. Nobody in the military should should."
Many times a soldier thinks they’re fine upon return from cobat, because they feel so good about being home, says Major Cindy Rasmussen, a combat stress officer for the 80th Regional Readiness Command.
This sort of euphoric state can last for months, and sometimes it isn’t until that excitement starts to taper and the reality of life after war sets in, that PTSD symptoms start to show.
Softich is trying to enact a Noah’s clause, legislation that would require all troops to receive mandatory counseling, at least once every two weeks for a year, upon their return from active duty. Since coming forward, Representatives Jim Oberstar, D-Minnesota and Neil Abercrombie, D-Hawaii along with Senators Norm Coleman, R-Minnesota, and Amy Klobuchar D-Minnesota, have taken interest her idea, she says.
Anyone who has just returned from combat doesn’t have the capacity to determine his or her wellbeing, says Softich. “They shouldn’t be given the opportunity to say, ‘No, I’m fine, when in reality the solder is scared, but can’t admit it because that’s is a sign of weakness and weakness is not allowed,” she continued.
Around the clock access to trained professional is available for anyone struggling with thoughts of suicide. Call 1-800-273-TALK (8255) to reach the National Suicide Prevention Hotline. If you are a veteran and would like to speak with someone trained in working with military members, press “1” to reach the VA Hotline.
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