Looking After the Soldier
Back Home and Damaged
Local veteran's suicide reflects troubling trend
Island County —
Island County —
Orrin Gorman McClellan grew up among the
alder and cedar that cover his family's 11-acre homestead on Whidbey Island. He
relished painting, music and acting, playing the star role of Toad in a local
production of "The Wind in the Willows."
McClellan seemed an unlikely Army recruit. But in the post-9/11 world, he responded to talk of honor, service and camaraderie. After graduating from high school, without informing his parents, McClellan signed up for three years of active duty.
He served in Afghanistan, where he lost friends to enemy bullets, picked up the body parts of blown-up soldiers and wrestled with the emotions unleashed by combat missions.
"Have you ever felt that each word you say brings you further away from explaining yourself," he wrote in an April 30, 2005, poem in a computer journal. "Everything you create puts a sour taste in your mouth and every action you take burns you with shame."
In the fall of 2006, McClellan left the Army and came back to his Western Washington island and a strong support network eager to help him rebuild his life. But family and friends were not enough to save him.
This year, on May 18, McClellan took his life with a handgun.
McClellan is among the war casualties that the Department of Veterans Affairs (VA) has just begun to track — young men and women who served in the post-9/11 military, and killed themselves after struggles with post-traumatic stress disorder and other war wounds.
In 2007, the last year figures were available from the VA, the suicide rate for veterans ages 18 to 29 was 37.1 per 100,000. That's more than 80 percent higher than the rate for the civilian population and the active-duty military.
"He never really came all the way home," said his mother, Judith Gorman, a social worker skilled in counseling traumatized people. "If some good can come out of this, I would like communities to be able to recognize that we all have to be able to bear some of the burden. We can't just expect veterans to heal ...
"We have to listen to their stories. Deep listening."
High suicide rate
During nine years of war, suicide rates among
active-duty soldiers, once far below the civilian population, have been on the
rise. From January through June 10 of this year, 115 soldiers had taken their
lives. The even higher rate of veterans taking their own lives after leaving
the military also has raised major concerns.
More than 35,800 Washington state veterans have served in the Iraq and Afghanistan war era. If the national veteran suicide rates also are representative of the state level, then more than a dozen young Washington veterans kill themselves each year.
These veterans can turn to a network of hospitals, clinics and counseling centers that have benefited from increased federal funding. Washington state has developed a network of 37 counselors who offer free services to veterans, while King County voters approved a 2005 levy that expanded services to veterans.
These efforts have aided plenty of people.
But the failures are wrenching.
In the summer of 2008, for example, two 25-year-old Iraq veterans in Washington state killed themselves: Timothy Juneman, who was attending school in Spokane, hung himself in his apartment. Tim Nelson, who was working at a Bellingham veterans center, shot himself at his home.
"As I've often asked, mostly of myself, but also of others from time to time, why do we know so much about suicides but so little about how to prevent them?" said Eric Shinseki, a retired Army general who now heads the Department of Veterans Affairs.
Photos and poems
Orrin McClellan served with the 173rd
Airborne Brigade Combat Team in a unit that called itself the Chosen Company,
working in mountainous eastern Afghanistan. His photos and poems reflect the
physical and emotional grind of serving in what was then a war largely
forgotten back home.
But he took great pride in being a good soldier, and in the bonds forged with combat buddies.
His parents say McClellan was stung by the loss of an older soldier he particularly respected, and a young one he had befriended. He also had trouble reconciling the warrior creed of protecting the innocent and fighting a war rife with civilian casualties.
In July of 2005, near the end of his time in Afghanistan, McClellan wrote a bitter ode to military recruiters:
your generalizations, good intentions,
sweet words, and half truths,
put them in a box.
drape a flag over it.
and bury it with the rest of the dead."
When McClellan left Afghanistan to return to
his post in Italy, he was already struggling with PTSD and other ailments,
according to Gorman.
McClellan was sent to Germany for a tonsillectomy, and his mother, without checking with the Army, flew there to watchdog his care.
She believes her intervention helped save his life as she fought for additional treatment of post-surgical bleeding and other complications.
But McClellan was disciplined by a superior for his mother's unauthorized appearance, according to Gorman. Later, he would tell his family that his morale hit rock bottom after he was punished by being forced to hold concrete blocks while treading water, a practice that he said felt like drowning.
"I will be forever angry at how they treated him," Gorman said. "They made him sign something saying that he had no control of his mother and tried to cut off family ties."
Unsettled at home
Back on Whidbey Island in the fall of 2006,
McClellan moved into a small cottage on his family's property. On this familiar
terrain, he tried to heal.
He suffered from constant headaches and back pain. His hearing was damaged from mortar blasts. He feared sleep for the nightmares that left him screaming in the dark.
In his daytime hours, he appeared to lose track of time and place, packing his truck with gear as if he was about to head off on a combat mission, or constantly taking apart and cleaning the family hunting rifle.
His mother took a counseling job at Whidbey Island Naval Air Station and helped her son navigate through the VA system. He eventually received a 100 percent disability rating due to post-traumatic stress disorder.
He cycled through therapy sessions, as well as inpatient treatment for alcohol abuse and PTSD. Just the commute from Whidbey Island to the Seattle VA hospital created stress. He would walk around the driveway again and again, trying to muster up the fortitude to get into the car.
In the summer of 2007, McClellan left Whidbey Island to get a fresh start at Montana State University in Bozeman. But he struggled with alcohol and drugs. By February 2008, McClellan was back home.
That summer, a police reprimand for kicking over a barricade at a Whidbey Island music festival turned into an ugly incident. McClellan repeatedly urged police to shoot him, and he was arrested after a struggle.
Losing the fight
By the spring of this year, McClellan
appeared to be starting to put his life together. He and his fiancée, childhood
friend Michelle McGowan, had moved into their own cottage by a lake and
McClellan quit drinking hard liquor.
He was also helping to promote the Whidbey Island Veterans Resource Center, which his parents had established in 2009 to offer referrals, networking and other assistance.
But one night, McClellan relapsed. He was anxious about yet another drive to the Seattle VA scheduled for the next morning. He was uneasy about what seemed like an invasion of privacy: a noisy construction crew working on the house next door had asked to use the electrical plugs in his cottage.
That night, in addition to his Ambien sleep medication, he drank Wild Turkey whiskey. A stranger, apparently a new neighbor seeking to introduce himself, approached the house with a barking dog.
McClellan appeared to launch into a flashback. He retrieved his semi-automatic from a lockbox. Then, he went outside and fired several warning shots into the ground.
McGowan looked at McClellan. He seemed startled by what he had just done. But she eventually was able to calm him down.
Somewhere outside, there was a bang, perhaps a firecracker lit by a neighbor.
McClellan was set off once again. He fired more shots, then walked into a bedroom and shot himself.
In the following weeks, the family thought of the suicide as a kind of accident — that McClellan, his mind fogged by alcohol and prescription drugs, had not realized what he was doing as he pulled the trigger.
More recently, his mother has come to believe McClellan sensed, in his final moments of life, that he had been out of control. That he had the potential to hurt innocent people. To keep that from happening, she thinks, he took his own life.
"Warriors are supposed to protect people, and that's what he did."
After War, From Wife to Caregiver: April Marcum has joined a community of spouses, parents and partners who drop most everything in their lives to care for injured loved ones returning from war.
By CATRIN EINHORN
Published: September 27, 2011
RAY CITY, Ga. — April and Tom Marcum were
high school sweethearts who married after graduation. For years, she recalls,
he was a doting husband who would leave love notes for her to discover on the
computer or in her purse. Now the closest thing to notes that they exchange are
the reminders she set up on his cellphone that direct him to take his medicine
four times a day.
"The biggest loss is the loss of the man I married," April Marcum said, describing her husband now as disconnected on the best days, violent on the worst ones.
He usually ignores them, and she ends up having to make him do it. Since Mr. Marcum came back in 2008 from two tours in Iraq with a traumatic brain injury and post-traumatic stress disorder, his wife has quit her job as a teacher to care for him. She has watched their life savings drain away. And she has had to adjust to an entirely new relationship with her husband, who faces a range of debilitating problems including short-term memory loss and difficulties with impulse control and anger.
“The biggest loss is the loss of the man I married,” Ms. Marcum said, describing her husband now as disconnected on the best days, violent on the worst ones. “His body’s here, but his mind is not here anymore. I see glimpses of him, but he’s not who he was.”
Ms. Marcum has joined a growing community of spouses, parents and partners who, confronted with damaged loved ones returning from war who can no longer do for themselves, drop most everything in their own lives to care for them. Jobs, hobbies, friends, even parental obligations to young children fall by the wayside. Families go through savings and older parents dip into retirement funds.
Even as they grieve over a family member’s injuries, they struggle to adjust to new routines and reconfigured relationships.
The new lives take a searing toll. Many of the caregivers report feeling anxious, depressed or exhausted. They gain weight and experience health problems. On their now-frequent trips to the pharmacy, they increasingly have to pick up prescriptions for themselves as well.
While taking comfort that their loved ones came home at all, they question whether they can endure the potential strain of years, or even decades, of care.
“I’ve packed my bags, I’ve called my parents and said I’m coming home,” said Andrea Sawyer, whose husband has been suicidal since returning from Iraq with post-traumatic stress disorder. “But I don’t. I haven’t ever physically walked out of the house.”
Those attending to the most severely wounded must help their spouses or adult children with the most basic daily functions. Others, like Ms. Marcum, act as safety monitors, keeping loved ones from putting themselves in danger. They drive them to endless medical appointments and administer complicated medication regimens.
One of the most frustrating aspects of life now, they say, is the bureaucracy they face at the Department of Defense and the Department of Veterans Affairs, from problems with the scheduling of medical appointments to being bounced around among different branches of the system, forcing them to become navigators and advocates for their loved ones.
A variety of care services are offered to the severely injured. But many family members do not want their loved ones in nursing homes and find home health services often unsatisfactory or unavailable.
Despite Ms. Marcum’s cheerful manner and easy laugh, she has started taking antidepressants and an anti-anxiety medication when needed. She has developed hypertension, takes steroids for a bronchial ailment that may be stress related and wears braces to relieve a jaw problem.
“I just saw all of my dreams kind of vanishing,” she said.
Over the past few years, advocacy organizations like the Wounded Warrior Project lobbied Congress to enact a law providing direct financial compensation and other benefits to family caregivers of service members.
In 2010 they succeeded, and by mid-September, the veterans agency had approved 1,222 applications, with average monthly stipends of $1,600 to $1,800. Caregivers can also receive health insurance and counseling.
“We know it doesn’t replace full lost income,” said Deborah Amdur, who oversees caregiver support for the agency. “It’s really a recognition of the kinds of sacrifices that are being made.”
While families express deep gratitude for the help, questions remain about who will qualify and how compensation is determined, advocates for veterans say. Furthermore, the law applies only to caregivers of service members injured in the line of duty on or after Sept. 11, 2001, eliminating help for thousands who served in earlier conflicts.
And the emotional strain is still palpable as families struggle to adjust to what many call their “new normal.”
In a reversal of the classic situation in
which adult children help out ailing parents, a substantial number of the
caregivers of post- Sept. 11 service members are parents caring for their adult
Rosie Babin, 51, was managing an accounting office when a bullet tore through her son Alan’s abdomen in 2003. She and her husband rushed to Walter Reed Army Medical Center and stayed at his side when Alan, then 22, arrived from Iraq. He lost 90 percent of his stomach and part of his pancreas. His kidneys shut down and he had a stroke, leaving him with brain damage. He eventually underwent more than 70 operations and spent two years in hospitals, his mother said.
Ms. Babin fought efforts by the military to put her son in a nursing home, insisting that he go into a rehabilitation facility instead, and then managed to care for him at home.
But since her son’s injuries, her doctor has put her on blood pressure medication and sleeping pills. Now, while deeply grateful for her son’s remarkable recovery — he gets around in a wheelchair and has regained some speech — she sadly remembers the days when she looked forward to travel and dance lessons with her husband. Instead, she helps Alan get in and out of bed, use the bathroom and shower.
“I felt like I went from this high-energy, force-to-be-reckoned-with businesswoman,” she said, “to a casualty of war. And I was working furiously at not feeling like a victim of war.”
Research on the caregivers of service members from the post-Sept. 11 era is just beginning, said Joan M. Griffin, a research investigator with the Minneapolis V.A. Health Care System who is leading one such study. (The V.A. estimates that 3,000 families will benefit from the new caregiver program; 92 percent of the caregivers approved so far are women.)
What makes the population of patients receiving care different, Ms. Griffin said, is their relative youth. “The V.A. has not had a significant influx of patients of this age group since Vietnam,” she said, with a result that caregivers are looking at a “long horizon of providing care.”
And one in five returning service members, a previous study found, report symptoms of post-traumatic stress disorder or major depression.
Ms. Griffin’s research shows that many family members spend more than 40 hours a week providing care. Half feel that they do not have a choice.
“They feel stuck,” Ms. Griffin said.
Some walk away.
For Ms. Marcum, 37 — who has an 18-year marriage
and two sons, ages 14 and 11, with Tom, 36 — there was never a question of
leaving. “I’m his wife and it’s my job, whether he’s hurt or not, to make sure
he’s O.K.,” she said.
When she first asked for a leave of absence from work to care for him, she expected it would be for just a few weeks, while doctors got to the bottom of the migraines keeping him in bed for days on end. When he was up, he often seemed confused and sometimes slurred his speech. After 12 years in the Air Force, where he worked as a weapons specialist, he was suddenly having trouble taking a phone message or driving home from the base. Mr. Marcum, who endured several mortar attacks in Iraq, one of which knocked him unconscious, eventually was given diagnoses of traumatic brain injury and post-traumatic stress disorder.
“My wife, I would imagine, probably felt as if she was a single parent for a while,” said Mr. Marcum, who is now medically retired from the Air Force. “She had to raise two boys. And now at times she probably thinks that she’s raising three boys,” he added with a laugh.
Ms. Marcum has found relief at a weekend retreat for military wives in her situation, and on a private Facebook page where caregivers vent, offer emotional support and swap practical advice. Participants say online communities like these are often more supportive than their extended families, who sometimes retreat in the face of such overwhelming change. Financially, at least, things are looking up for the Marcum family. Ms. Marcum was awarded the highest tier of coverage through the veterans agency’s new caregiver program, giving her a monthly stipend of $1,837. Physical, occupational and speech therapy have all helped Mr. Marcum improve, but she worries that his progress has plateaued.
“We kind of have been in the same spot for a while,” Ms. Marcum said. As proud as she is of her husband’s service, Ms. Marcum feels guilty that neither of them now works, and hopes that one day she will again hold down a job, while continuing to care for him. She pictures herself working somewhere relaxed, like a Hallmark store, where she could chat with people and help them with cards and gifts. It would be an escape, she said, from the stress at home.
It was Sept 10th 2007. I had been at
work all day. A few strange phone calls with strange questions had came
in, but still I never imagined what was to come. Until the last phone call
to work that said, "Go home straight after work'. I crumbled inside.
I could not even drive. A friend drove me home. All I kept
saying is... he's okay. He was just on my voice mail the morning before.
Then it hit me. My birthday was in 5 days and I had told him that
all I wanted for my birthday was for him to come home. Maybe he was playing
a trick on me. Maybe it was him who had called my job telling me to
come home. I walked back and forth in my apartment looking at pictures of
him... pictures of us... pictures of our 3 children ages 4, 2 and 7 months.
The door opened and in walked 2 soldiers in class As. One soldier
was a chaplain. I fell on my couch.
Then the SFC read while shaking the paper in his hand. My husband had been killed in Iraq in a vehicle rollover. What? I just kept saying they had the wrong man. My husband could not leave. Not now. He only had a month left. We still had 3 children to raise and a life to live together.
It is now 2 weeks later and I still expect a phone call or an email to say he's alright. The funeral was beautiful and the Army honored him well, but I still feel like it's all a dream. I remember the last email he wrote to me. It said that he had tried to imagine a life without me but that it was too painful to imagine. I now am living this life. While he was deployed I felt like my life has been on pause. Everyday making myself get out of bed to take care of the kids and go to work. Saying to myself soon he'll be home to help. Saying he'll be back to help with everything. But now he won't. How do I unpause my life when he's not coming home to unpause it? Everything is just so confusing.
the one-year anniversary of her husband's
suicide, Barb Dill breaks down at her husband's tombstone. Wade Dill, a
Marine Corps veteran, took a contractor job in Iraq. Three weeks after
he returned home for good, he committed suicide (Francine Orr / Los
Angeles Times / Redding, CA / July
REDDING, Calif. — Wade Dill does not figure into the toll of war dead. An exterminator, Dill took a job in Iraq for a company contracted to do pest control on military bases. There, he found himself killing disease-carrying flies and rabid dogs, dodging mortars and huddling in bomb shelters.
Dill, a Marine Corps veteran, was a different man when he came back for visits here, his family said: moody, isolated, morose. He screamed at his wife and daughter. His weight dropped. Dark circles haunted his dark brown eyes.
Three weeks after he returned home for good, Dill booked a room in an anonymous three-story motel alongside Interstate 5. There, on July 16, 2006, he shot himself in the head with a 9 mm handgun. He left a suicide note for his wife and a picture for his daughter, then 16. The caption read: "I did exist and I loved you.''
More than three years later, Dill's loved ones are still reeling, their pain compounded by a drawn-out battle with an insurance company over death benefits from the suicide. Barb Dill, 47, nearly lost the family’s home to foreclosure. "We’re circling the drain," she said.
While suicide among soldiers has been a focus of Congress and the public, relatively little attention has been paid to the mental health of tens of thousands of civilian contractors returning from Iraq and Afghanistan. When they make the news at all, contractors are usually in the middle of scandal, depicted as cowboys, wastrels or worse.
No agency tracks how many civilian workers have killed themselves after returning from the war zones. A small study in 2007 found that 24 percent of contract employees from DynCorp, a defense contractor, showed signs of depression or post-traumatic stress disorder, or PTSD, after returning home. The figure is roughly equivalent to those found in studies of returning soldiers.
If the pattern holds true on a broad scale, thousands of such workers may be suffering from mental trauma, said Paul Brand, the CEO of Mission Critical Psychological Services, a firm that provides counseling to war zone civilians. More than 200,000 civilians work in Afghanistan and Iraq, according to the most recent figures.
"There are many people falling through the cracks, and there are few mechanisms in place to support these individuals,'' said Brand, who conducted the study while working at DynCorp."There's a moral obligation that's being overlooked. Can the government really send people to a war zone and neglect their responsibility to attend to their emotional needs after the fact?"
The survivors of civilians who have committed suicide have found
themselves confused, frustrated and alone in their grief.
"If I was in the military, I'd at least have someone to talk to," said Melissa Finkenbinder, 42, whose husband, Kert, a mechanic, killed himself after returning from Iraq. "Contractors don't have anything. Their families don't have anything."
Some families of civilian contractors who have committed suicide have tried to battle for help through an outdated government system designed to provide health insurance and death benefits to civilian contractors injured or killed on the job.
Under the system, required by a law known as the Defense Base Act defense firms must purchase workers’ compensation insurance for their employees in war zones. It is highly specialized and expensive insurance, dominated by the troubled giant AIG and a handful of other companies. The cost of it is paid by taxpayers as part of the contract price. But the law, which is designed to provide coverage for accidental death and injury, blocks payment of death benefits in the case of almost all suicides. Cases linked to mental incapacity are the lone exception, judges have ruled.
A joint investigation last year by ProPublica, ABC News and the Los Angeles Times revealed that contract workers must frequently battle carriers for basic medical coverage. While Congress has promised reforms, there has been no discussion of changing the law when it comes to suicides involving civilian defense workers.
The military, by contrast, allows survivors to receive benefits in cases in which a soldier's suicide can be linked to depression caused by battlefield stress.
Hundreds of soldiers have committed suicide since the war in Afghanistan began in 2001, according to studies by the Army and the Department of Veterans Affairs. In response, the Defense Department has become more active in trying to prevent suicide than its hired contractors, military experts said.
The military is "aggressively trying to reach people and do intervention beforehand and set up suicide awareness programs," said Ian de Planque, a benefits expert at the American Legion, the nation's largest veterans group. "Awareness of it has increased. I don’t know that it’s transferred over to the civilian sector at this point."
Birgitt Eysselinck has spent years trying to prove that her husband's death in Iraq was related to stress from his job with a company specializing in the removal of land mines and explosive ordnance. So far, courts have sided with the insurance firm, Chicago-based CNA, in denying Eysselinck's claim. (CNA declined to comment, citing privacy reasons.) Eysselinck, 44, said that neither federal judges nor insurance adjusters understand that civilian contractors face many of the same risks in Iraq and Afghanistan that soldiers do. Her husband, Tim Eysselinck, endured
mortar attacks and frequently traveled across Iraq's dangerous highways, she said.
"There is a huge percentage of contractors who are silently suffering," Eysselinck said. "That obviously puts them and their families at risk. Communities are bearing the brunt of this, especially the families."
Dill was working at a local pest control
company when he decided to take a job with KBR in Iraq in late 2004.
The money was good – almost $11,000 a month for handling
extermination and hazardous material disposal, more than double his
"He said this was our opportunity," Barb Dill said. "He could start a college fund for our daughter, pay off the mortgage and have a nice retirement. He told me at his age, 41, he didn't know if he had enough years left in him to give us what he wanted."
Wade started that December, working on bases in central and northern Iraq. Violence was ever present. A base near Mosul was shelled frequently. He told Barb that a mortar landed close enough to temporarily deafen him. Once, he called her sobbing.
"My husband never cried, ever," she said. "Marines don't cry. A young man, a soldier, had put a pistol to his head and blown his brains out. And Wade had to go in and clean up after they removed the body – he had to clean up brain matter and blood. It really upset him."
Barb Dill noticed a change in her husband when he returned home for a visit in December 2005. The couple had been high school sweethearts, married for 15 years. They had troubles, but had always worked them out. Now, he seemed moody and often angry, lashing out at her and their daughter, Sara.
"He would say hateful things to me and our daughter – things he had never said before." Dill said. "This was a man that loved his little girl and his wife. He always called us his girls."
When Wade returned for another visit in June 2006, he abruptly quit his job and began acting erratically, Dill said. He ripped the wiring out of appliances, smashed mirrors and poured lighter fluid on their furniture.
After a few weeks, Wade took a room at a local motel. On July 15, he asked Barb to come see him. Their conversation spiraled into a confrontation. Frightened and angry, Barb sped off in her car. The next day, the Shasta County coroner's office called to tell her that Wade's body had been found in the room.
"He told me that he was sick and needed help," Dill said. "I told him to get help and then we would talk. The last time I saw him was in my rearview mirror."
Dill soon found herself in financial difficulty. Her husband had
always taken care of the bills. He had spent lavishly with his higher salary, buying two BMWs during trips home. Now, Dill discovered the couple was $300,000 in debt on their mortgage and car loans.
She plunged into depression, struggling to cope with her daughter’s grief and the sense that she had failed her husband in his time of need. She sold the cars and nearly lost her home after falling behind on mortgage payments.
She suffered mostly by herself. Except for a handful of Web sites, no support groups exist for widows of civilian contractors. The federal government offers no counseling for civilians returning from work in war zones.
Dill said that she felt abandoned by everyone: her husband's employer, the insurance company and especially the federal government, which oversees the Defense Base Act system through the Labor Department.
"Shouldn't our government be responsible for the companies they hire?" Dill said. "Shouldn't our government take care of its own people, who are doing jobs our government, ultimately, wanted them to do?"
Survivors of civilian contractors whose death is related to their work in Iraq have the right to apply for compensation benefits that pay up to $63,000 a year for life.
Dill applied, asserting that her husband’s PTSD made him an exception to the rule against payments in suicide cases. Her claim was denied by AIG, KBR's insurance provider.
She protested, sending her claim into a dispute resolution system run by the Labor Department. Her case is still grinding its way through the system, which can take years to produce a final result. Experts hired by the family and the insurance company differed on what led to Wade Dill’s suicide.
A psychiatrist hired by her attorney found that job stress in Iraq was one of the factors that drove Wade to suicide: "The bottom line is that the combination of physical separation and work-related stress resulted in increasingly emotional distance, greater distortion of the relationship, increasing emotional intensity, and a pattern of increasing erratic behaviors that culminated in suicide," wrote Charles Seaman, an expert in PTSD.
A Labor Department examiner recommended that AIG pay the claim, but the company refused. AIG and KBR declined comment about the case. In court filings, AIG has argued that the Defense Base Act does not cover suicides. AIG attorneys also have said that Wade Dill's actions were related to marital and family problems. A psychiatrist hired by AIG testified at a hearing in San Francisco in January that he had performed a "psychological autopsy" on Wade Dill based on interviews with his family and court documents.
The psychiatrist, Andrew D. Whyman, said his evaluation led him to conclude that Dill suffered from depression and that his suicide was unrelated to the violence he witnessed in Iraq.
"Take out the Iraq experience, (the suicide) would have happened," Whymantestified. "He had a choice. … He could have chosen not to do that." Barb Dill insists her husband came back from Iraq a changed man.
"No matter how strained our relationship could get at times, we always pulled out of it with no problem," Dill said. "Iraq changed all that." Now, she said, she is trying to hold her life together. A final decision in her case is not expected for months.
"We're just slowly sinking," she said. "It's hard to be strong."
a preview of 'Disposable Army,' a documentary currently being produced
by Mark Crupi, which contains interviews with Barb Dill and T.
Orrin Gorman McClellan is among the war casualties that the Department of Veterans Affairs (VA) has just begun to track — young men and women who served in the post-9/11 military, and killed themselves after struggles with post-traumatic stress disorder and other war wounds.
By Hal Bernton
Seattle Times staff reporter
Hal Bernton: 206-464-2581 or firstname.lastname@example.org
Seattle Times researcher David Turim contributed to this story.
pictures please go to article on web.
Perry McClellan and Judith Gorman put a flagpole in front of their home to commemorate their son's life and service. A talented artist, he helped his parents create a new veterans center on Whidbey Island before taking his life in May.
Video | A Soldier's Eye on War
Video | Poetry from a War Zone
Some resources for Washington veterans
• Washington State Department of Veteran Affairs counseling services: 1-800-562-2308, www.dva.wa.gov/ptsd_counseling.html
• U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs Suicide Prevention Hotline: 1-800-273-TALK, www.suicidepreventionlifeline.org
• King County Veterans Services: 206-296-7656, www.kingcounty.gov/socialservices/veterans.aspx
• Snohomish County Veterans' Assistance: 425-388-7255, www1.co.snohomish.wa.us/departments/human_services/divisions/cmtyaction/veteranassistance/
• Pierce County Veterans Bureau: (253) 798-7449, www.co.pierce.wa.us/pc/abtus/ourorg/veterans/default.htm
• Whidbey Island Veterans Resources Center: (360) 321-7226, 1796 E. Main Street, #106, Freeland, WA. 98249; www.vetsresourcecenter.org/index.php