Report: Longview soldier committed suicide in Afghanistan

Report: Longview soldier committed suicide in Afghanistan
Spc. Mikayla A. Bragg
LONGVIEW, Wash. (AP) - A 20-year-old soldier from Longview killed herself in Afghanistan last December as she served alone in a guard tower, where she was stationed despite a long history of mental-health issues that was not communicated to her supervisors, according to a new report.

An Army investigation determined that Spc. Mikayla Bragg's commanding officers were never told she had made an apparent previous suicide attempt while serving stateside in Fort Knox, even though officials at the Kentucky base knew of it, The Daily News of Longview reported. The newspaper obtained the investigation report through a Freedom of Information Act request.

"I found out after her death she had been seen (at Fort Knox) for issues like this. Of course the information was never provided to her commander (in Afghanistan)," wrote one frustrated Army captain, whose name was redacted. "Real effective policy they have in place."

Among the findings were that her superiors weren't told she had spent 45 days in an Army hospital at Fort Knox for mental-health treatment just months before she deployed. She had been hospitalized after telling doctors she wanted to crash a car and injure herself.

They also didn't know she had weaned herself off her prescribed anti-anxiety medication to satisfy requirements to deploy. That was six months before she shot and killed herself while stationed alone in a guard tower on Dec. 21 at Forward Operating Base Salerno.

"It is my opinion that (Bragg) 'fell through the cracks' created by the lack of information sharing that had been repeatedly requested and denied," a brigade behavioral health officer stationed at Camp Salerno wrote to investigators.

Bragg's father, Steve Bragg of Longview, declined to comment on the findings.

The report highlights a persistent problem for the military: Suicides have risen alarmingly even as the wars in Afghanistan and Iraq are winding down. Veterans groups and others have urged the military to do more to help soldiers who are struggling with long deployments, the stress of being away from home and pre-existing psychological trauma.

But it also portrays a young soldier determined to serve. Bragg, 20, enlisted in 2008 after graduating from Mark Morris High School. She volunteered at battalion fundraising events, referred herself to Fort Knox counselors when necessary, and, once she deployed, fit in immediately with a new group of soldiers.

The 135-page report, known as a 15-6 investigation, included written statements from Bragg's colleagues and commanders, mental-health counselors and Army officials at Fort Knox. All names except for Bragg's were blacked out in the report. Capt. Brett C. Shepard, an attorney with of the U.S. Army's Judge Advocate General Corps, signed it.

Bragg showed no indications she was having trouble in Afghanistan, according to Army interviews with nearly two dozen of her fellow soldiers. All said she was a good soldier, and she had been promoted twice to specialist while in Afghanistan. She completed the Army's suicide prevention training in November 2011 - mandatory for all soldiers - and attended additional classes designed to help intervene in other soldiers' suicide attempts, according to the report.

The report does not say if anyone would face discipline in relation to Bragg's death. The investigators made three recommendations:

-Mental-health providers stateside should share more information about high-risk soldiers with mental-health providers in war zones. Camp Salerno's behavioral health officer said she had been unable to get mental-health records for Bragg because of privacy laws.

-Commanders should develop better procedures to ensure personnel data is not lost while transferring soldiers between units.

-No soldier, regardless of gender, should be stationed in a guard tower alone.

In the report, Army investigators said commanders at Fort Knox failed to properly track Bragg as a "high-risk" soldier who could potentially hurt herself or others before she was cleared to deploy to Afghanistan. Her death may not have been prevented, but she may have been better able to cope if she continued counseling and other services while stationed overseas, the report said.