Military veterans: Soldier suicides now at epidemic rate

Military veterans: Soldier suicides now at epidemic rate
JOINT BASE LEWIS-MCCHORD -- When the 4th Stryker brigade returned home from Iraq last year, the soldiers were met with smiles and warm hugs.

Missing from their ranks was Sgt. Derrick Kirkland. The husband and father had been sent home from Iraq five months earlier after trying to commit suicide three times.

"The doctors at Madigan (Army Hospital), for some reason after three suicide attempts in a matter of a couple of weeks, rated Kirkland as low-risk for suicide," said Army veteran Mike Prysner.

Fellow unit members say Kirkland returned to his rear detachment unit at JBLM where he was allegedly called a liar and a coward.

"After mocking him on a Friday night, he was sent to a room by himself, which is complete contradiction to anybody who has any amounts of common sense," said fellow soldier Kevin Baker. "He was placed by himself, and he was found Sunday morning. He'd hung himself in a closet."

Kirkland's supporters say the Army cleared itself in an internal investigation, but they want the investigation reopened.

"It is our assertion that Sgt. Kirkland was killed by the criminal negligence provided by the U.S. Army here at Fort Lewis," Prysner said.

A JBLM spokesman called Kirkland's death a tragedy, but said he can't comment on the details except to say the military takes suicide prevention extremely seriously.

But Kirkland's supporters say the military's efforts are falling short while the horrors of war are taking a toll on our troops. Military veterans say soldier suicides have reached epidemic proportions, and more prevention is needed.

"More soldiers are killing themselves each day than dying in combat. That right there says that something is very wrong with the system right now, of (the) mental health care in the military," said Army veteran Josh Simpson.

Kirkland's supporters say it's going to take public pressure on the military to get changes. Toward that end, Kirkland's mother and several fellow active-duty soldiers are going to speak out Friday night near the base, hoping to catch the military's attention.