Three Suicides Among Returning Fort Carson Soldiers

October 11 2005, 8:15 PM

Questions are being raised about the suicides of three Special Forces soldiers from a Fort Carson unit who committed suicide after returning from Iraq.

Chief Warrant Officer William Howell was a 15-year Army Special Forces veteran who had seen combat duty all over the world. Sgt. 1st Class Andre McDaniel was a military accountant. Spc. Jeremy Wilson repaired electronics. They had little in common, other than having served in Iraq with the 10th Special Forces Group based at Fort Carson, Colo. They did not know each other, and they had vastly different duties. Each, however, committed suicide shortly after returning home, all within about a 17-month period.

The Army says there is no connection. But, Fort Carson soldiers have been involved in some of the grisliest fighting in Iraq. And, there may be a "macho-type" culture in the unit that makes them less likely to seek help.

Steve Robinson, a former Army Ranger and veterans' advocate, said he suspects there were problems in the men's unit - namely, a macho refusal to acknowledge stress and seek help. "It could be that there's a climate there that creates the stigma which prevents people from coming forward," said Robinson, executive director of the National Gulf War Resource Center. "The mentality of this particular group seemed to be 'Ignore what you think and feel and keep doing your job and don't talk to me about that (expletive) combat stress reaction stuff.'"

What can be done to spot those having the greatest difficult re-adjusting to life upon return from Iraq?

Robinson has been pushing military leaders to stop using paper questionnaires to screen for problems among returning soldiers and switch to face-to-face meetings with mental health professionals. "There have been improvements, but it's been like pulling teeth from a lion's mouth to get the Department of Defense to do things they're not willing to do because of the dollars," he said.

It's time to spend the money. The Department of Defense should cough it up. It's bad enough we are losing lives in war. It's inexusable that we countenance more loss of life by not providing adequate resources to those who return.