Last Call for Long Island Marine Was Suicide Inside a Jail Cell

War Experience Changed Marine, Family Says

by Martin C. Evans,
Newsday, March 31, 2012 

Marine Sgt. Bart Ryan returned from eight months of combat in Iraq in October 2005 a tormented man.

Although he had won acclaim from his Marine Corps superiors for his service and good conduct, the man who arrived back on Long Island was never able to regain his balance.

On Feb. 24, alone in a Nassau County jail cell, Ryan hanged himself. He was 32 years old.

Sgt. Bart Ryan, standing with his father Thomas. Bart was former Marine standout from Long Island who beat cancer, survived combat duty in Iraq and cheated death again in a serious motorcycle accident shortly after his tour in the Corps. But Ryan could not beat PTSD or his addiction to pain medications. He divorced and came home a changed man who could not find his way. He took his own life Feb. 24, 2012 by hanging himself with a bed sheet inside a Nassau County jail cell. He was 32 years old.

According to family members, close friends and a lawyer who assisted Ryan during several post-combat brushes with the law, the former Marine experienced a frustrating and humiliating string of drug-related arrests and auto accidents after his 2005 return. His marriage evaporated. He couldn’t hold a job. His once-vibrant personality was buried under myriad self-inflicted problems.

“He was the kind of guy who brightened the room,” Ryan’s brother Tom said. “But when he came back, he was not so lighthearted. He wasn’t the same person.”

Military experts and political leaders have expressed increasing concern that many of the estimated 2.3 million Americans who have served in Iraq or Afghanistan struggle as they try to reintegrate themselves into civilian life.

They say high rates of divorce, joblessness, depression, suicide and anti-social behaviors among returning veterans pose potential risks to them, their families, and others with whom they share neighborhoods, roadways and workplaces.

A 2010 Rand study of New York State’s Iraq and Afghanistan veterans found that one in six exhibited post-traumatic stress disorder or depression. One in five said they had sought mental health services in the past year but had not received it.

Sgt. Bart Ryan

Tom Ryan said his brother was at least twice turned away from Veteran’s Administration facilities when he sought outpatient help. He said once was in September 2009, after Ryan’s father Thomas’ death from cancer, when Bart and Tom Ryan visited the VA facility in Bay Ridge.

He said he and his brother waited for nearly 12 hours for a bed in the facility’s inpatient drug treatment program. He said his brother was turned away for lack of space. And in February, Ryan’s mother, Lilyann Ryan — alarmed when her son said he was contemplating suicide — took him to the VA facility in Northport, where she asked that he be admitted as an emergency inpatient.

When Bart Ryan told staff he was not suicidal, he was not admitted, Tom Ryan said.

Sal Thomas, a spokesman for the VA facility in Northport, said, “While we cannot discuss the specifics of an individual patient’s care, I can tell you that any veteran presenting to the Medical Center with thoughts of suicide is thoroughly assessed by a psychiatrist, and a medical determination for the appropriate level of care is made. No veteran assessed as in need of inpatient care is ever turned away from the Medical Center.”

A spokesman for the Bay Ridge facility said no veterans are turned away from medical care.

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