With countless soldiers suffering from post-traumatic stress disorder and an ever-increasing number of suicides on its hands, the military has been saying for years that it’s going to take mental-health care more seriously. Yet according to a group of soldiers at Joint Base Lewis-McChord, near Tacoma, officers are still belittling those who seek help. And that’s directly responsible, these soldiers suggest, for the March suicide of Spc. Derrick Kirkland.
In a statement released last week, the soldiers assert that Kirkland was “killed” by the Army. The soldiers do not give their names, but say they serve in the 4-9 Infantry Battalion, to which Kirkland was also assigned. A handful of people drew up the statement, according to one of the soldiers, who was interviewed by SW.
This soldier says he personally witnessed a sergeant calling Kirkland a “coward” and a “pussy.” Kirkland had just returned from his second tour in Iraq, a tour cut short because of his mental-health problems.
Kirkland “was then carelessly assigned to a room by himself, and like every other soldier with PTSD, given substandard care,” the statement says. Three days later, Kirkland committed suicide. He hung himself, according to the soldier interviewed by SW. Only one day later, the soldier says, he overheard the same sergeant making jokes alluding to Kirkland’s death. “Hey, you guys want to hang out later?” the sergeant asked his buddies.
Lewis-McChord spokesperson Kathleen Turner says she will contact Kirkland’s unit to see whether it will respond to the allegations. (We had not heard from them by press time.) She says his suicide was investigated at the time, as all suicides are, and that neither investigators nor Kirkland’s family have raised any questions about improper treatment.
The joint base runs a so-called “Warrior Transition Battalion,” where wounded soldiers returning from Iraq and Afghanistan are supposed to get the help they need, including mental-health services. The base’s battalion is currently building a $52 million complex that is to house 400 soldiers. In the meantime, the current facility is overcrowded. Kirkland, like many traumatized soldiers, was not placed there, says the soldier interviewed by SW.
And in April, the battalion turned away some 180 National Guard soldiers on the grounds that they were “weekend warriors” who were faking their injuries, according to the military publication Stars and Stripes.