Soldier's recent suicide may not have been isolated incident - wistv.com - Columbia, South Carolina

Soldier's recent suicide may not have been isolated incident

(Columbia) September 10, 2006 - It's been more than three years since the war on terror began. We've lost many of South Carolina's bravest along the way - but not all of them have died in the warzone.

WIS found that at least three soldiers from South Carolina committed suicide after returning from active duty. Whether they like it or not, the military now is on a mission to get soldiers help long after the shooting stops.

Phillip Kent was down to 90 pounds when he returned to Columbia from Iraq.

"It's screaming at me when he gets off that bus," Phillip's mother, Laura told WIS News. "He is not well - he's stressed, he's on edge, he's just a bundle of nerves. Besides that just his general appearance, any mother would pick up on that immediately."

Laura says her son would not eat or sleep, had anxiety, and lost interest in doing all the things he loved growing up, like playing sports and making music. Laura believes Phillip was scared to ask for help.

"If he were to admit it, it was a sign of weakness - and of course in the military you don't want to be weak," said Laura. 

So behind his back, Laura called a military chaplain. However, she says nobody followed up with her son. Two months later he was hospitalized.

"For two days in the psychiatric unit - boy that was sure a long time for someone that - I just thought 'what a sham.' That was so ridiculous."

Six months later, Phillip was honorably discharged from the military after being arrested but not charged for a fight he had with his wife. Laura says Phillip's mental health had strained his marriage and at this point his life began to really unravel.

Then he threatened suicide...

"He said 'I'm going to get a bottle of Jack [Daniel's Whiskey] and I got my pistol right here,'" Laura tearfully remembers, "and then I got the call that no human being wants to get ever."

Phillip killed himself, exactly the way he said he would.

The psychological toll of war is climbing. The military does not track suicides among returning soldiers, but an Ohio newspaper was able to come up with 21 such veterans from news reports and V.A. advocate groups. WIS News was able to confirm three of the soldiers were from South Carolina.

Laura Kent believes the military is partly to blame for her family's horrific outcome. She doesn't think her son got the right counseling before being released from the Army.

Lieutenant Colonel Steve Shugart says the demand for mental health treatment is growing, and finding ways to deal with it is a battle the military is still learning about. 
    
"Certainly, there must be some places where we let people down, must be some places where we could've done it better. We want to do it better and are trying to do it better," Lt. Col. Shugart told WIS News.

According to the Army's Surgeon General, 30% of US troops returning from Iraq have developed mental health problems a few months after coming home.

Reported by Angie Goff

Posted 8:57pm by Logan Smith

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