News Details

$50,000 gift to assist local vets

By Paul Grondahl

Source: Albany Times Union
Published: Friday 03 May, 2013

A Nebraska woman donated $50,000 to Soldier's Heart, a Troy not-for-profit organization that supports returning veterans.

The gift was made by Kara Hatcher Hawkins in memory of her brother, Phillip Hatcher, a veteran of the Iraq and Afghanistan wars who suffered from post-traumatic stress disorder and committed suicide in 2008 in his Nebraska jail cell.

Hawkins made the donation after a settlement in a wrongful death suit. The amount of the settlement was not disclosed. She won a federal lawsuit filed in 2010 against Lincoln County Jail officials in North Platte, Neb., on the basis that guards should have known Hatcher might try to kill himself because he was arrested in the middle of a suicide attempt.

"Losing someone the way I lost my brother is heartbreaking," Hawkins, 33, a medical aide, said by phone from her home in North Platte. "I want veterans to get the help they need so that they will live on and experience the things my brother never will."

Soldier's Heart founder Ed Tick, a psychotherapist and author of "War and the Soul," has worked with veterans suffering from PTSD for more than 25 years. The $50,000 gift will be used to establish the Phillip Hatcher Memorial Scholarship Fund. It will enable needy veterans suffering from PTSD to attend at no cost retreats and other healing programs organized by Soldier's Heart.

"Kara was very clear that she wanted to have something good come out of this tragedy and that her gift will help other veterans suffering from PTSD," Tick said.

Hawkins and her family did not have any connection to the Troy organization. The gift was made through the recommendation of the wife of Paul Henderson, a lawyer and retired Army veteran, who is on the board of Soldier's Heart. Henderson's wife, who is also an attorney, had a connection to the law firm that represented Hawkins in the wrongful death suit.

Tick has talked with Hawkins several times and she hopes to attend an upcoming Soldier's Heart retreat. She also wants to get her brother and husband, both veterans who have struggled recently with their own PTSD, to attend one of the group's retreats. The group's retreats blend elements of psychotherapy, spirituality, philosophy and Native American healing rituals.

"The Hawkins are a patriotic, well-meaning family that paid a high price in terms of the wounds our veterans carry back home after combat," Tick said. "The issue of veterans with PTSD is extensive and epidemic, especially with young veterans returning from Iraq and Afghanistan. This gift will help veterans suffering from conditions similar to Phillip Hatcher's."

Hawkins said she was very close to her younger brother, growing up in the small town of Dearing, Ga. Phillip Hatcher signed up for the Army and served from 2001 to 2004 with the 101st Airborne Division. He was deployed to Afghanistan and Iraq for a total of 16 months. He began developing symptoms of PTSD, left the Army and drifted from Georgia to Nebraska.

He got a job at Wal-Mart, but lost it because he had trouble sleeping, struggled with flashbacks and began to have suicidal thoughts, his sister said.

"He couldn't hold down a job and was having a really hard time," Hawkins said.

She saw her brother a few days before he died. He played with her kids, seemed happy and said he was going to see his girlfriend. The couple was planning to get married.

Before he left he said, "I'll see you later, Sis. I love you." Those were the last words she heard from him.

Hatcher was arrested for a possible car theft and tried to slit his wrists when police caught him. He was placed on suicide watch in a special cell in the Lincoln County Jail, but was later removed from suicide watch without consultation from a mental health professional and he was placed in a regular cell, where he hung himself, court records showed.