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Wednesday, July 18, 2012

Two Soldier Suicides Reveal Flawed Mental Health System

One American soldier commits suicide every day, on average. And in an article about why the military hasn’t succeeded in reducing the problem, Time Magazine profiles two soldiers who killed themselves on the same day.

The stories of Dr. Michael McCaddon and helicopter pilot Ian Morrison illustrate “two different ends of the same spectrum,” according to Time’s Pentagon correspondent Mark Thompson.

Ian Morrison — A Soldier Who Knew He Needed Help

CPT Ian Samuel Morrison committed suicide March 21, 2012. (Photo: West Point)

Officer Ian Morrison was a helicopter pilot and his wife was a mental health  professional who knew he needed help and tried to help him get it.

“[Morrison] was somewhat atypical… in that he was very eager to get help,” Thompson told Here & Now‘s Monica Brady-Myerov.

At Fort Hood Texas before he died, Morrison tried to get help at least six times, Thompson says. But he was either shunted aside or told that the wait was too long and to come back next month.

“When somebody reaches out for help, he must not be told, ‘Sorry come back in two hours,’ or ‘Sorry come back next week,’” Thompson said. “Or be put on hold as Captiain Morrison was for at least 45 minutes before he killed himself.”

Dr. Michael McCaddon — Didn’t Get The Help He Needed

Captain Michael Ryan McCaddon, M.D. committed suicide March 21, 2012. (Gloucester Times)

Before his suicide, Dr. Michael McCaddon had been a bomb defuser,  who then went to medical school to become an Army obstetrician. He wasn’t deployed to Iraq or Afghanistan, but he had served in Bosnia. And he had a history of depression. His biological father had also committed suicide.

“He knew he had these issues, and he sought help… Perhaps not as much as his wife Leslie thought he needed,” Time’s Mark Thompson said.

McCaddon had a fear that he wouldn’t be promoted if it was revealed that he had mental health problems.

And when he got in his residency, his work load intensified, and he began lashing out at his family. Then his wife went to McCaddon’s commander, without her husband’s knowledge, and pleaded with her get her husband some help.

“[Leslie] told her, ‘Get my husband some help. Encouraging him isn’t good enough. You can order him to get that help,’” Thompson said. “The Army resolutely, on at least two occasions, said, ‘No, frankly Leslie, this sounds more like a family problem than an Army problem.”

Months later, McCaddon killed himself.

What Suicides Illustrate

Peter Chiarelli, who recently retired as the Army’s second in command, told Time that there aren’t enough mental health professionals in the Army, or sufficient funds put towards soldier mental health.

Chiarelli told Thompson about a study that appeared to show that two-hour long consultations for soldiers can help with mental health problems.

“But we, the U.S. government and the U.S. taxpayers, just have not allocated sufficient funds to allow that sort of intense mental health counseling to occur,” Thompson said.

As he writes:

“No program, outreach or initiative has worked against the surge in Army suicides, and no one knows why nothing works. The Pentagon allocates about $2 billion—nearly 4 percent of its $53 billion annual medical bill—to mental health. ‘That simply isn’t enough money,’ says Peter Chiarelli… “And those who seek help are often treated too briefly.”

But Thompson adds that the Pentagon has tried a lot to deal with the problem, and its unclear how to reduce the suicides.

“If there’s a suicide expert in this country he or she’s been contacted by the Pentagon.” Thompson said. “They are plainly reaching out everywhere.”

The military has tried everything from therapy dogs to aromatherapy to acupuncture to massage to yoga.

“The military may be in many ways a high bound institution, but when it realizes it is dealing with an insidious enemy it will bring all forces to bear,” he said.

Will Suicide Rate Drop After Wars End? 

With the Iraq War over, and the war in Afghanistan ending soon, Thompson says one would expect suicide rates to fall. But one senior former Army psychiatrist told him “Not exactly.”

Readjusting back to family life can add stress, as will the fact that many soldiers will be losing their jobs.

Thompson says the military budget will also be cut, and along with it possibly mental health services.

“Both TBI [Traumatic Brain Injury] and PTSD [Post Traumatic Stress Disorder] can be seen as seeds [for] trouble down the road,” he said. “They don’t immediately sprout, some never sprout. But others sprout a month, six months, a year, two years after they’re planted.”


  • Mark Thompson, Pentagon correspondent for Time magazine

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  • http://pulse.yahoo.com/_APAYNNQDPY3R4RHFQNIIR76IPQ KimM

    Mark Thomson, the reporter from Time who did the piece on Here & Now, was a complete pentagon apologist.

    “Well, there are genetic factors involved and we can’t possibly know who’s going to commit suicide.”

    “Well, we can’t consider every case of depression as a suicide risk…”

    There is ONE SUICIDE EVERY DAY—and *all* these people have one thing in common.

    It’s clear the Pentagon isn’t doing a damn thing about this—putting one soldier who called and was saying he was going to kill himself ON HOLD for 45 minutes.

    “Suicide is going to happen” according to them. They’ll do another study about what they can do (the obvious answer being beyond their view).

    The reporter was a pathetic hack.

    • Alfred

      As was pointed out by Joe in this message thread. There are those at the Pentagon who consider soldiers as “throw aways”. The sooner these “injured” men and women die, the less time and money they have to spend on them. Some of them have lifelong injuries and the military system doesn’t have the money, funds, etc. to care for all of them to the end. Modern medical advances are allowing many of these soldiers to remain alive, whereas in the past, they would die.
      The best result is for them to die.
      The same can be said of America’s senior citizens. Every one that dies is that much social security money going to them.
      Not a pretty way to look at the situation, but that’s the reality. Business is business.

  • Nait

    In lieu/addition to the ‘useless’ interview upon return, could one way of helping soldiers be; Before they enlist, they give three or four loved ones as contacts – once they come back, have these contacts interviewed for mental health/well-being concerns, sa two or three times over a 2 year period.  This can point to soldiers who need further follow-up by medical professionals.

  • http://www.facebook.com/profile.php?id=100003000884786 Navin R Johnson

    I was a physician in the military and it was the worst job I ever had.  The military uses their physicians very inefficiently.  It is impossible to provide adequate medical care as a military physician on a day to day basis.  Too many patients and too little support. 

    Dr. McCaddon was still in residency, which is very stressful.  He had many risk factors for suicide, especially after his wife and children left him in Hawaii.  It is clear he should have been ordered to have a mental health examination by his commander.  That might have made the difference.  However, I am not surprised in the least by this event.

  • Michael Fogler

    Re: military suicides… What’s the mystery? The way to reduce military suicides is for the military to stop being the military! Human beings can’t be trained to hate, dehumanize, and kill other human beings without consequences of this sort. There is ample research about how military training goes fundamentally against the grain of human nature.

  • Joe

    From what I read around 2 years ago on line concerning American soldiers, the Pentagon considers them “throwaways”. They are to be used in combat and thats about all.

    They serve their purpose for the US war machine and ruling elite to advance their agendas.

    Consider what Henry Kissinger, a wanted war criminal stated in his book from back in 1990:

     “Military men are just dumb stupid animals to be used as pawns in foreign policy.”

    …Henry Kissinger, quoted in “Kiss the Boys Goodbye: How the United States Betrayed Its Own POW’s in Vietnam

  • Janie

    I believe it would help if active duty military were allowed to seek care from civilian providers. My husband has sought help numerous times and his experience echoes that of the soldiers in the article. He’s been told to wait, days, weeks, months. He was chastised when he went for help after a failed suicide attempt, because he “should have come in sooner” and then a month later he was scolded for coming in preemptively and “wasting an appointment”. At other times he’s been talked down to and threatened with being admitted to the hospital. That is not how you treat someone who is trying to get help for depression, anxiety and suicidal thoughts. But he is restricted to the physicians at the military hospital and any complaints about his treatment (or lack thereof) falls on deaf ears. I also suffer from mental health issues, but as a family member I am able to seek treatment at civilian facilities and my experience has been exceptional. I wish my husband were allowed to receive the same help.

    • Debbie

      I agree. If my husband could have gotten help from the community providers he would be better. He had a suicide attempt two years ago after he was in a VA hospital for a suicide attempt. They discharged him before he was ready! I begged them to keep him, they wouldn’t. He came hone the next day and tried to kill himself . He needs help. He’s still not better. He won’t go back to the Va.they won’t pay for help in the cimmunity so he and our family continue to suffer.

    • Deborah Chelette-Wilson

      I’ve heard the same scenario by military personnel.  It stinks! to say the least.

  • Debbie

    I also believe that if the VA would pay for and allow for the Veterans to get treatment for their mental illness or CD issues that would help many. The VA system is too big to meet the needs of our Vetrans.  My husband had suicide attempt two years ago beause the VA discharged him from thier mental helath unitl because he did not meet their critieria. He came home the next day and tried to kill himself.  I have tried to get the VA to pay for services in our commnity.  First because the VA is an  hour away. Second because who can trust a system that did not take care of your husband. It has been two years and he is still not better. I have tried to fight the VA to pay for services and they won’t  even thought he is 100 % service connected for depression.  I believe that the VA system needs to be elminated and that our Veterans be allowed to get better, more timely care in the community. By allowing for our Veterans to get care in the community for which they  live they can be supported by family as well.


    I am a disabled vet, and it’s difficult enough to get medical help, much less mental health from the VA.  I went out and got my knee surgeries on my own – outside of the VA!  All they did was give me medication.  I am also an LPC and have offered my services, but – I’m in private practice and they won’t refer them out.  If that’s the way they want to do it, why not go self-pay (and most of us in private practice work on a sliding scale) and get the help needed on your own?  There are a lot of us who want to help.

    • Karen

      You are so right. I am an LPC also in private practice. Most of my clients are active duty SMs, covered by Tricare. I am certified in EMDR, which is awesome and works a lot faster than talk therapy. I worked at the R&R Center on Fort Hood for 3 years and am experienced with PTSD and all the other symptoms that go along with it.

  • Karen

    I am an off-post provider in the Fort Hood area, and I see active duty personnel, retirees and family members.  Most all have Tricare and can be referred off post.  If a service member (SM) goes to the R&R Center/Triage, they will be referred off post if the R&R Center has no appointments within 30 days.  A SM can also request to be seen off post and will be referred. 

    My heart goes out to those with family members who have committed suicide.  There are so many unanswered questions, and it is a tragic loss.

  • tgraves

    I work in a counseling office and we see active duty military all the time.  We are in-network with TriCare and they send us referrals.  I’m sure there are not enough providers that accept insurance but if you are serious about getting help you can pay  50.00.  What about talking to a pastor?  Gov’t is never going to be efficient or practical we have to be responsible for ourselves. 

  • Deborah Chelette-Wilson

    This just makes my heart hurt as well as get angry.  I have been an Air Force brat, a Marine and Army wife.  I have been a Licensed Professional Counselor in a rural private practice and a Tricare provider for 10 years.  Because of  rules by the governement as a Master’s Level provider I have to have a doctor’s order and their agreement to supervise me in order to get paid for providing counseling services to military personnel and their families.  Over the years this has been difficult because in the rural area I live in doctors haven’t wanted to do this.  Needless to say I have just provided services but couldn’t bill which I couldn’t do many or I couldn’t stay in business.  The sad thing is that I’ve received specalized training in stress and trauma.  The military personnel I have seen have told me that no one they have worked with in the military has shared the information and techniques with them that I have which they have found very helpful.  Recently the rules have been changed so that masters level “mental health counselors” can see military personnel and families without the red tape.  But for the last two months I’ve been trying to find out if this includes LPC’s . I’ve contacted Tricare, NCC and as of today still have no answer.  One more thing: if more LPCS were authorized to provide services and get paid for them these services could be paid for by Tricare and open up an incredible group of professionals to help our military.

  • Docreginab

    One additional resource that I am not hearing discussed is Vet to Vet, a program where veterans are trained as peer counselors. Many veterans are reluctant to seek help from civilian sources, where they feel they will not truly be understood. Interested people can get information on Vet to Vet by googling it or (hopefully) by contacting the local VA mental health programs and leadership. I know my credibility in my patients’ eyes soared when I put out a photo of myself in uniform.

  • armyvet74

    I am a recently discharged disabled veteran. I was stationed at Fort Hood when i got out. I also have mental health problems and can remember how I was treated when I tried to get help. My chain of command thought I was just playing games and trying to get out of work. They constantly threatened me, saying we are going to start chapter paperwork if you dont shape up. My PMC finally started an MEB and my chain of command proceeded with chapter paperwork. In the end I got honorably discharged through medical channels because I could no longer perform my duties nor carry a weapon. It took me getting my congressman involved with the post commander to keep from getting chaptered and a other than honorable discharge, after I had just been used up overseas serving my country. This is the way the Army operates, talk down to you and threaten you if you are seeking help. It is crap, plain and simple.

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