September 18, 2008 – My nephew, U.S. Army Sgt. Coleman Bean, died earlier this month. He was 25, and he took his own life. I’ve spent this week in New Jersey, where Coleman lived, helping his parents and brothers get through this terrible time. Over 300 people attended Coleman’s memorial service in Milltown. Many of them were young men that Coleman had served with in the military.
Coleman signed up for the Army on Sept. 5, 2001, almost seven years exactly to the day he died. He was with the 173rd Airborne, and parachuted into Iraq at the start of the invasion. He served his country honorably, and was discharged in 2005.
Coleman, however, had trouble readjusting to civilian life, and he was being treated for post traumatic stress disorder. Unfortunately for Coleman, he was a part of the Individual Ready Reserve. In 2007, he was called back to duty. As hard as it was for him, Coleman felt that he couldn’t let his fellow soldiers down by refusing the call. He served another tour of Iraq with the Maryland National Guard. Coleman was released from active duty in May of 2008, and he still held reserve status, meaning that he could have been called back to duty yet again. He was waiting to get treatment for his PTSD when he took his own life.
At the wake following Coleman’s memorial service, we heard stories from several of the soldiers who had served with Coleman. The most poignant of these stories came from Sgt. Melson, who had the job of preparing the Maryland National Guard for their tour in Iraq. Sgt. Melson looked to Coleman, as a returning soldier, to be an example for the group. Although Coleman was unhappy that he had been recalled, he took it upon himself to make sure that each of those soldiers was prepared to face what lay ahead. Even though Coleman hated to get up in the morning, he took it upon himself to be up and get everyone else up for physical training. If a soldier was having difficulty getting his running times down, it was Coleman who ran extra to help him get into shape. Sgt. Melson said that Coleman told him he wanted these soldiers to come home safe and he knew that training would help them do just that.
Coleman was just that type of a man. He looked out for others. He helped people through the tough times. He looked out for those who needed help.
Unfortunately, our country didn’t look out for him when he needed help. Even though he was diagnosed with PTSD after his first tour, our country activated him from the Individual Ready Reserve, and made him go again. It provided no counseling to him when he came home the second time, and he was on a waiting list to get treatment.
Recent statistics show that Iraqi war veterans are committing suicide at the rate of 46 per 100,000 people, which is more than double the rate of the general population of 20 per 100,000. One of the main antagonists causing this problem is multiple deployments, such as utilizing the Individual Ready Reserve. More importantly, the Veteran’s Administration is not providing the treatment these returning soldiers need and deserve. Coleman’s death will not be counted among the Iraq war casualties, but he was a casualty of this war nontheless.
At the memorial service, one of Coleman’s brothers said that when the three brothers went out, they would always drink a toast “To the way things should be.” Rather than toasting to the way things should be, we as a country need to act to make this the way it should be. End the war in Iraq. End the multiple deployments. Treat these returning soldiers with the respect and care they deserve. Here’s to Coleman, and the way things should be.