Recently I read a discouraging piece in TIME Magazine about how a former Army psychologist, Dr. Peter Linnerooth, committed suicide while struggling with Post Traumatic Stress Disorder. This tragic story provides yet another searing indictment of the military’s and VA’s negligence in dealing with PTSD and Traumatic Brain Injury. TIME captured this indictment in the late-officer’s own words in an interview a few years ago:
“The Army has been criminally negligent– but I’m a captain– what am I going to say to a battalion commander who’s going to oppose my decision? ” said Linnerooth after a deployment to Iraq.
“We were told you have to hold soldiers to a higher standard of severity and symptoms to diagnose PTSD. Meanwhile, I’m looking at the DSM-4 [Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders, 4th Edition] — the standard of my profession– and saying ‘It doesn’t f— say that here.”
To his wife and three children who lost their dearest loved one, we would like to say your husband and father is a hero. Thank you for your sacrifice for us. You are in our thoughts and prayers.
Dr. Linnerooth’s tragic story compelled me to share a personal experience that demonstrates how I and many other veterans suffering from the invisible wounds of war live under the ever-present threat of suicide.
To begin with, I never thought that I would be at risk for suicide. I have a world-view in which suicide does not provide escape from the problems that may inspire it. Given that, let me tell you why I am still afraid of suicide.
The greatest current threat to my life is medication. Since my Stryker was back-ended by a powerful suicide car bomb in 2007, I have experienced frequent painful, often debilitating, post-concussive headaches several times a week. At their height, I suffered from them almost every day. Under the guidance of physicians and neurologists, I have tried around ten different medications to reduce the number of headaches with only limited success. Each medication comes with its own set of pernicious side effects. Often these include drowsiness, sleepiness, dizziness, weakness and cognitive impairment but have also included nausea or symptoms similar to having a heart attack.
My concern is the ones that may cause “depression, suicidal thoughts/attempts, or other mental/mood problems.” I have been on several of these. I am taking one right now.
In November 2010, in one of many failed attempts to fix my chronic head pain, I was prescribed one of these “suicide medications” to counter that daily, debilitating head pain. I remember reading a news story then about an Army Colonel who had committed suicide by over-dosing in a hospital parking lot. He said in his goodbye note that he just couldn’t deal with the head pain anymore. I was beginning to feel that way, too. Moreover, I remember deciding that maybe suicide was in fact a viable and reasonable solution for dealing with the acute pain and disorientation. That I could think that way frightened me. I stopped taking the medication immediately. A few days later I began taking another medication. I had to keep trying. It just hurt too much.
A few months later I had reached my emotional nadir. For years my life had been slowly falling apart as the chronic pain, the cognitive deficits from my damaged brain, the emotional problems from TBI and PTSD, and the fatigue from TBI-caused chronic sleep disorders combined to insidiously damage almost every facet of my life. By March 2011, I was worn down to the breaking point– I was physically, mentally, and emotionally broken. I felt like I had failed in everything. I was deep in depression. However, at this period of greatest distress, I was not suicidal. Yes, I wanted to escape. I wanted to get away from the pain. I wanted to escape what I saw as my failures, but during this period I never succumbed to seeing suicide as a real way out.
What if In March 2011 I had started taking the “suicide medication” I had been taking in November 2010 that had weakened my inhibitions against suicide instead of several months earlier when I was in a much better place emotionally? What would have happened? No question I might have taken my own life. Am I living one pill away from death? And that terrifies me.
And there are tens of thousands of soldiers and veterans with situations very similar to mine.
Maj. Ben Richards