Families Affected by Suicide Feel Sting on Memorial Day
Monday, May 25, 2009
Mary Clare Lindberg's son, Army Sgt. Benjamin Jon Miller, was home in Minnesota on leave from Iraq in June when he shot and killed himself.
In March, Lindberg made a pilgrimage to Fort Campbell, Ky., to visit the post where her son served with the 101st Airborne Division. While it was comforting to meet with the soldiers with whom her son had served, Lindberg was upset when she saw the unit memorial. The names of two soldiers from her son's brigade who were killed in combat were on the memorial, but Ben Miller's name was not.
"Because my son was a suicide home on leave, his name was not on the memorial wall at Fort Campbell, and that's just not right," said Lindberg, who said her son was suffering from post-traumatic stress disorder from his experiences in Iraq.
Crying as she spoke Friday, Lindberg was comforted by several other women who had lost sons or husbands in the military to suicide.
"Our loved ones are casualties of the war, but they are not remembered," said Connie Scott, whose son, Pvt. 1st Class Brian M. Williams, also killed himself while home on leave from Iraq.
Lindberg and Scott are among 1,200 military family members who have gathered at National Harbor during the Memorial Day weekend for the National Military Survivor Seminar, sponsored by the nonprofit Tragedy Assistance Program for Survivors, or TAPS. Attendees, including families of service members killed in action in Iraq and Afghanistan, in training accidents or in other service, are participating in a weekend of counseling, workshops and a "Good Grief Camp" for the children. The family members will be gathering at Arlington National Cemetery today for the observance of Memorial Day.
Mirroring a rise in suicides in the military, many of those participating in the 15th annual TAPS seminar are families of service members who took their own lives.
"A third of the calls we're getting now are from families with suicides," said Bonnie Carroll, executive director of TAPS.
Suicides in the Army, already at a record rate in 2008, surpassed the number of combat deaths for the month of January. As of the end of April, the Army had lost 64 active-duty soldiers to likely suicides.
"When we get to the point where more soldiers are dying by suicide than combat, there's something desperately wrong," Lindberg said.
At the TAPS conference, families of service members who had taken their lives said they are combating the stigma often associated with suicide.
"My son was a victim of the war. He was a casualty of Iraq just as much as any combat casualty," said Scott, whose son took his life by carbon monoxide poisoning the day before he was to return to Iraq.