News Details

Military addresses suicides

By Brad Rhen

Source: Stars and Stripes
Published: Thursday 13 June, 2013

FORT INDIANTOWN GAP — Earl Granville deployed three times with the Pennsylvania National Guard's 1/109th Infantry, once each to Bosnia, Iraq and Afghanistan.

His twin brother, Joe, joined him on the first two. The two attended basic training together and were in the same Guard unit.

But when Earl deployed to Afghanistan in 2008, Joe did not go. He had a full-time job and two young children to care for.

During that deployment, Earl lost his left leg when a roadside bomb exploded under the vehicle in which he was riding.

Two years after he returned home, he lost his brother.

Wracked by guilt over friends who were killed during their deployment to Iraq and over not being there when his brother was wounded, Joe committed suicide.

"Joe had a little bit of post-traumatic stress, I believe from Iraq, a lot guilt from some soldiers who fell over there," Earl said. "It just got worse and worse as time went on, and when I lost my leg, he took it pretty hard. Two and a half years after my injury, he took his own life."

Granville, a Scranton native, was at Fort Indiantown Gap on Wednesday to speak at a military suicide-prevention symposium.

"I like to get out to show how it's affected not only me and my family, but also the community, my unit and just get that awareness out and show the military community there's no shame in getting help," he said.

Over the past 12 years, as the U.S. military has fought two wars, suicide among active-duty troops has risen steadily, hitting a record of 350 in 2012. That was more than the number of troops killed in combat last year.

Suicides among National Guard and Reserve troops and veterans has also risen steadily during that time.

Wednesday's event was sponsored by the Pennsylvania Adult/Older Suicide Prevention Coalition and featured mental-health experts from the Pennsylvania National Guard, the state Department of Military and Veterans Affairs and the Lebanon VA Medical Center.

Retired Maj. Gen. Mark Graham, who lost both of his sons — one to suicide in 2003 and one in combat in Iraq in 2004 — and now champions mental-health and suicide-prevention awareness, was the keynote speaker at Wednesday's event.

"We're trying to bring a community together to figure out how we can wrap our arms around our military members and our veterans to help prevent suicide and create an environment of healing for them," said 1st Lt. Sarah Lambert, resilience, risk reduction and suicide prevention coordinator for the Pennsylvania National Guard.

Lambert said one of the big misconceptions about suicides in the military is that they are caused directly from combat. Many suicides involve people who never deployed or who have deployed but have been home for over a year, she said.

"Suicide doesn't discriminate," she said. "Anybody can be at risk of suicide. You don't have to be deployed or have deployed or have seen combat to experience stress, and that's the bottom line. People are people, and that's what we're trying to teach here."

Other factors in suicides include personal finance, employment, legal issues and relationship problems, she said.

There is also a stigma among service members when it comes to seeking help, Lambert said.

"Any person is embarrassed to admit they have a weakness, that there's something going on and they have to ask someone to help them deal with it. that is a challenge for anybody, whether you're in the military or not in the military."

Andrea Raker, suicide-prevention coordinator at the Lebanon VA Medical Center, said the stigma involved in seeking help is one of the largest issues the VA faces with suicides. Often times, she said, people don't know where to turn when they have suicidal thoughts.

"When somebody is very vulnerable, they're thinking about death, especially self-inflicted death, a lot of times they really feel isolated," she said. "Having somebody that they trust to provide them with the resources sometimes can provide them with a handoff point. It can provide them with that link."

Raker said the Lebanon VA is piloting a program in which mental-health services are embedded with primary-care services.

"We have a consultation liaison team so that we can actually provide therapy within a non-stigmatized setting," she said.

Granville, 29, said there is no shame in getting help and urged other veterans to seek help if they think they need it. He received counseling, himself, after he lost his leg and said it was definitely helpful.

"The infantry mentality is 'suck it up and drive on,'" he said. "You go to a chow hall, and they run out of food, OK, suck it up and drive on. But when you just watched your buddy get wounded in action, there's no suck it up and drive on. The help is there for a reason."