Veteran Suicides Continue to Rise

Yet another veteran of the Iraq war committed suicide over the weekend, this time in Indiana, as a kind of national mental health crisis deepens.

The San Francisco Chronicle is out today with a shocking report: In California in 2006, 666 veterans committed suicide -- 21 percent of the 3,198 suicides in the state that year, according to the California Department of Public Health. Yet that year, the 2.1 million veterans in the state represented only 6 percent of the state's residents.

As a further sign of mounting worries, Kerri Childress, a V.A. spokeswoman, told the paper that the department now has more than 17,000 mental health workers -- and needs to hire 3,700 more, making the V.A. the largest mental health provider in the nation.

The subject of U.S. military veteran suicides, which I have covered at Editor & Publisher for nearly five years, has finally become a hot media topic in recent days, peaking last week with hearings in Congress concerning the surprisingly high suicide rate (about 1,000 attempts per month) and the V.A.'s apparent efforts to cover up the true numbers.

Often, however, small town newspapers are the only sources for information on vet suicides. It happened again yesterday with a report in The Herald Bulletin of Madison County, Indiana.

"Questions still remained Saturday after the suicide of a decorated Iraq war veteran in the Elwood City Jail on Friday," the newspaper's Jessica Kerman reported.

U.S. Army Spc. Timothy K. Israel, 23, was pronounced dead at 2:45 p.m. Friday at St. Vincent Mercy Hospital in Elwood after an Elwood police officer found him hanging in a holding cell 15 minutes earlier, according to Ned Dunnichay, Madison County coroner.

Israel had used the drawstring from his pants to commit suicide. "He had been arrested Friday morning on suspicion of domestic battery after an argument with a former girlfriend," Kerman related. "However, friends of Israel said he was wrongfully accused.

"Keith Israel, the veteran's father, said Thursday that he was considering a civil lawsuit against the Elwood Police Department because he believed no one was monitoring surveillance cameras in the cell. At that time, Keith Israel said he believed his son's suicide was the culmination of ongoing police harassment and untreated post-traumatic stress disorder.

"Timothy Israel was deployed to Iraq in October 2006, serving for a year. His father said he earned a Purple Heart after being wounded by a roadside explosive in 2007."

The Indianapolis Star reports today, "Detective Mike Minnicus of the state police Pendleton post will look at videotapes of the cellblock monitoring system and will review the Elwood department's policy manual on the use of the holding cell."

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