Editorial: Army brass must answer for inattention to mental illness

Fayetteville Observer (North Carolina)

If the end result of the investigation into Private First Class Jason Scheuerman’s suicide is that one NCO loses a rocker or two and another loses his stripes, you’ll know it’s a whitewash and you’ll know what to expect: more of the same. This case should make the Inspector General see stars.  [Read about the tragic incident here: http://www.veteransforcommonsense.org/articleid/8993.]

Scheuerman, who killed himself in Iraq in 2005, was exhibiting suicidal and depressive behavior four months before his death. He was reported. He was interviewed. He was referred to a psychologist. He was evaluated. He was threatened, and punished, and threatened and punished again. And so, fearful of being raped in the stockade and viewing himself as a screw-up who had brought “dishonor” on his unit, he stepped into a closet and shot himself. He was 20.

A plausible argument can be made that anyone who sees a soldier with the muzzle of his weapon in his mouth and doesn’t act is too ignorant to be in the Army. But, in general, soldiers aren’t expected to be experts in mental instability — although they can be taught much more than most now know, including every line of the Army’s list of suicide risk factors.

A chaplain deserves credit for both his concern and his persistence. And give a nod to Scheuerman’s platoon sergeant, who recommended professional help — as did his company commander, under prodding from the soldier’s mother, who received what she took to be a suicide message. But: The result of the visit with the psychologist (not, it seems clear, a psychiatrist, an M.D.) was a test which established, to the psychologist’s satisfaction, that Scheuerman was “capable” of feigning mental illness. That isn’t what anyone needed to know. What the higher-ups needed to know was whether or not he was capable of self-murder. Instead, the report served to peg him as a fake, a phony and a malingerer.

Outside the operating room, the armed forces are not famous for their attention to individuals. To an extent, that’s unavoidable. But the mental health division belongs in the same category as the surgeons. Yet, for years, its leadership — the brass — has parried questions about patient care with laments about manpower needs.

Chris Scheuerman of Sanford, himself an Army veteran, brought to light this much of the story of his son’s death and then asked Congressman Bob Etheridge of Lillington to call in the Inspector General. Give Mr. Scheuerman the final word: “We will not see a statistical decrease in Army suicides until the Army gets serious about holding people accountable when they do not do what they are trained to do.”

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