Franklin James Cook

Single Battalion’s 4 Recruiter Suicides Result in Army Probe

In Advocacy, Grief, Stigma on December 30, 2008 at 10:09 am
Amanda and Patrick Henderson

Amanda and Patrick Henderson

ORIGINAL REPORT — [Editor’s note: The original report includes a brief description of a suicide.] The Army Times on Sunday published a recent Associated Press report by staff writer Michelle Roberts on a Texas-based recruiting battalion that has seen four suicides among its ranks since 2005. The AP report tells the story of the most recent death, that of “Sgt. 1st Class Patrick Henderson, a strapping Iraq combat veteran [who] spent the last, miserable months of his life as an Army recruiter, cold-calling dozens of people a day from his strip-mall office and sitting in strangers’ living rooms, trying to sign up their sons and daughters for an unpopular war.”

The 266-member Houston battalion covers a huge swath of East Texas, from Houston to the Arkansas line. Henderson committed suicide Sept. 20. Another battalion member, Staff Sgt. Larry Flores Jr., hanged himself in August at age 26; Sgt. Nils “Aron” Andersson, 25, shot himself to death in March 2007; and in 2005, a captain at battalion headquarters took his life, though the military has not disclosed any details. All served combat tours before their recruiting assignments.

The Army’s investigation was prompted by Henderson’s widow, Staff Sgt. Amanda Henderson, “herself an Iraq veteran and a former recruiter in the battalion,” and Texas Sen. John Cornyn, a Republican member of the the Armed Services Committee, who “said he will press for Senate hearings.” The investigation was also prompted by the fact that “the Army has 38 recruiting battalions in the United States … [and] Patrick Henderson’s is the only one to report more than one suicide in the past six years.”

He became, at age 35, the fourth member of the Army’s Houston Recruiting Battalion to commit suicide in the past three years — something Henderson’s widow and others blame on the psychological scars of combat, combined with the pressure-cooker job of trying to sell the war.

“Over there in Iraq, you’re doing this high-intensive job you are recognized for. Then, you come back here, and one month you’re a hero, one month you’re a loser because you didn’t put anyone in,” [Amanda Henderson said].

Her criticism of the Army is based in part on what she sees as inadequate care for veterans returning from combat.

[Recruiters] must have a recent evaluation showing no record of mental instability. But Amanda Henderson said her husband, like other combat veterans, rushed through his assessment, insisting he was fine … He suffered a breakdown in the weeks before his suicide … Because he was hundreds of miles from the nearest Army post, he went to a local counselor recommended by the military after an initial visit with an Army doctor. But the counselor had never worked with a combat veteran and couldn’t decipher the military jargon in his medical records, [she] said.

“I don’t want anybody to feel this pain that I have,” she said, her eyes welling with tears. “It’s too much for one person. They need help.”

Another story about the suicide of a combat veteran is told in the video report “The War Within,” which focuses on the aftermath of suicide for the family of Marine Reservist Jeffrey Lucey, a veteran of the Iraq invasion who killed himself at age 23 after he returned home and suffered from Post Traumatic Stress Disorder. “The War Within” is part of a weekly webcast series, In Their Boots, which describes itself as “a compelling new magazine show about the dramatic impact the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan are having on us … [featuring] … service men and women, and their families, in stories that have universal appeal.”

Also last month, PBS NewsHour reporter Betty Ann Bowser examined the issue more comprehensively in “Military, VA Confront Rising Suicide Rates Among Troops“:

The Army says suicides among its active-duty personnel have doubled in recent years, with almost 700 since the year 2000. … Attempted suicides and self-injuries have quadrupled over the past six years.

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