Monday, March 11, 2013

Iraq war veteran's death raises issue of post-traumatic stress

Iraq war veteran's death raises issue of post-traumatic stress

Probably no one will ever know what thoughts were going through Iraqi war veteran Jason Glover’s head when he allegedly pointed a handgun at a St. Tammany Parish sheriff’s deputy Friday night. Fearing for his life, the deputy shot and killed Glover.

Hearing of the incident on Saturday, however, several military veterans said they suspect Glover knew what he was doing.

“He wanted to do it, but he didn’t want to pull the trigger himself,” said Andrew O’Brien, a 24-year-old Iraqi war veteran who attempted suicide two years ago by swallowing a bottle of pills. “Thank God I didn’t have a gun or I would’ve done that.”

After returning from Iraq, Glover had struggled “greatly” to reintegrate into civilian society, St. Tammany Sheriff Jack Strain said in a statement. “Sadly, he and his family were ultimately unable to find the help he truly needed.”

Post-traumatic stress disorder, whether diagnosed or not, is common among military veterans. An average of 22 veterans -- and one active-duty soldier — take their own lives each day, according to a study by the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs.
There have been several instances of veterans committing so-called “suicide by cop” in cities nationwide. On March 4, for example, 32-year-old Santiago A. Cisneros III, an Iraqi war veteran who was diagnosed with PTSD, fired shots at Portland police and was killed by their return gunfire.

There are between 300,000 and 320,000 veterans of all wars living in Louisiana, said Shawn Cronan, a Gulf War veteran and executive director of NOLA Patriots, a nonprofit organization that seeks to help military veterans and their families in the New Orleans area.

As the roughly 5,000 Louisiana soldiers who are currently deployed overseas start to return home, Cronan said, he is concerned about the growing problem of military suicides.

“This (Glover incident) could very well have been prevented had someone been able to reach out to this veteran or his family,” Cronan said. “We’ve got to be very, very cognizant that this is, sadly, not going to be an isolated incident.”

Veterans say they often experience haunting nightmares form their war experiences, as well as intense guilt for having survived when some of their comrades were killed.

“You’ve been through an experience that only can be thought of as hell, and nobody understands, and it really haunts you,” Cronan said. “You sleep with your eyes open; you’re suspicious of everyone everyplace you go.”

It’s often hard for military veterans to keep up personal relationships because they feel nobody can understand what they’ve been through, Cronan and O’Brien said.

Further exacerbating the problem, veterans are often reluctant to seek treatment for their mental illness. They often fear employers will discriminate against them if they seek help for post-traumatic stress disorder, Cronan said.

But there are also psychological reasons that veterans don’t seek counseling or other services they may need. “It’s hard for any man to ask for help,” O’Brien said. “For soldiers, it’s even harder because you’re supposed to be stronger, you’re supposed to be the backbone of the nation. You feel weak if you ask for help.”

“Even at my age today, I still struggle with it,” said Landon Allen, a 72-year-old Vietnam veteran. “It never goes away.”

Those looking for more information on NOLA Patriots can email or call the office at 504.309.0898.

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