December 20, 2007 – DALLAS – The Army says in 2006 soldiers committed suicide at the highest rate in nearly three decades. However, at 109 deaths so far, this year has been even worse.
While the military is taking action and trying to slow the disturbing trend, the answers aren’t easy, particularly for grieving parents.
In the case of Spc. Aaron Latimer, of Ennis, the signs were there.
“We could tell he was really depressed,” said Richard Latimer, Aaron’s father.
During his tour in Iraq, Latimer was suicidal. In fact, Army records show his unit took his weapon away and had soldiers escort him wherever he went for fear that he would take his life.
But on May 9, 2006, just days after his commanders returned his weapon, Latimer put the Army-issued rifle into his mouth and pulled the trigger.
“It’s almost like he talked them back into giving it back to him so he could end it,” Mr. Latimer said.
Latimer’s battle with inner turmoil is not unique. A record number of soldiers have taken their own lives this year.
“We see a lot of depression, a lot of anxiety,” said Catherine Orsak, Dallas VA Medical Center.
While suicide rates are lower than the national rate at the Dallas VA Medical Center, longer deployments and the horrors of combat keep mental health officials busy.
“More people are asking for counseling,” Orsak said. “More people are asking for more specific services we provide, and our workload has shown that increase.”
Orsak said her office has increased its staff by nearly 20 percent to handle the workload, which is part of the military’s recent aggressive efforts to halt suicides.
But the efforts are little consolation to parents like the Latimers.
“They think about killing people and breaking things,” Mr. Latimer said. “Sometimes, they don’t think about the welfare of their own troops.”
Mr. Latimer said questions of what lies behind the suicidal thoughts still haunt him.
“I probably will have to go see him on the other side to find out,” he said. “I don’t think I’m going to understand that in this lifetime.”