Time Magazine just featured an article called “A Soldier’s Tragedy: He killed his wife, his daughters and himself. What one National Guardsman’s murder-suicide reveals about the plight of weekend warriors.”
Matthew Magdzas joined the Army National Guard in 2005 fresh out of high school and a year later volunteered to go to Iraq. Matthew spent 12 months on the front lines and was described as an “exceptional, safe and responsible” soldier by his commanders. “He was awarded several decorations, including the Combat Action Badge.” Matthew saved the lives of many of his comrades by “neutralizing” the insurgents.
After a 2-week debriefing, he was sent home to his wife and daughter, with no job and a severe case of Post Traumatic Stress Disorder. He did everything he was supposed to do. He sought help from the VA, and received several medications for depression, anxiety and pain. Matthew was placed on suicide watch, but expressed frustration about the care he was getting through the VA. I think it’s important to note that 6,500 veterans kill themselves each year… that’s 18 PER DAY.
He got no relief from his counseling sessions, and I have to say, I don’t know how ANYONE could find relief or comfort from the sessions Matthew described to a friend. “They pretty much sit me in the room, and they make me rehash only the things that happened in the war. I’m having worse nightmares that don’t go away. They’re not helping me get over it. They just listen to my stories and send me out the door.” He was then ordered to Fort Knox, KY for a mental evaluation. Because the psychologist determined Matthew had chronic PTSD, “it would be in the best interest of this soldier and the Army” for Matthew to be discharged. To a combat soldier, that is like being thrown into the trash.
I have zero experience with the military, and even less experience with war combat, but I have experienced PTSD, and am very familiar with death, unrelenting sorrow and despair. I am sure PTSD plays a huge role in veteran suicides. But I believe the VA and General Peter Chiarelli, the Army’s Vice Chief of Staff and top suicide fighter is missing a critical piece of the treatment puzzle: helping our combat veterans grieve! These men and women are trained to kill and to maintain focus even as their buddies are being killed and maimed right next to them. That is more than any human being should have to bear.
I know I’ve said this before but our culture doesn’t like seeing men grieve. I can only imagine that sentiment being amplified by the macho culture of the military. But if we don’t start teaching these men that it is not only okay, but that it is imperative for their recovery and reentry into civilian life to grieve, we will only continue to see more casualties.
I plan on reaching out to General Chiarelli, and encourage other grief specialists to do the same. We have to help our hurting soldiers and their families.