MILITARY WOMEN: Home safe but not sound
According to a study in Psychiatric Services, among women ages 18 to 34, female veterans were three times more likely to kill themselves than non-veterans. Rising rates of suicide among women in the military proves how deep the emotional wounds are.
By Julia Savacool
Women’s Health, May 24, 2012
Increased rates of suicide among females in the military—once out of harm’s way—points to how deep and inescapable their emotional wounds are. In this investigation, Women’s Health uncovers the disturbing reasons behind the rise and searches for an answer to a critical question: How can we protect them…before it’s too late?
Edie Bailey was shocked when her doorbell rang at 6 a.m. on a Saturday and the somber faces of uniformed soldiers greeted her. She recognized the macabre scene played out in countless movies, but how could this be happening? Her foster daughter, Galina, was home from war, safe, and hunkered down at her military base in Hawaii.
Then one of the men spoke. Galina was dead, he told her. Wait. Pause. Dead? But she hadn’t yet left for her second tour abroad.
“She shot herself in the head,” Edie says now, the words even and detached. “She got into her car at the base and blew her brains out.”
It’s been a little more than a year since Private Galina Klippel committed suicide just two months shy of her 25th birthday. For Edie, at home in Eagle River, Alaska, every day is a futile exercise in trying to understand what went so horribly wrong for a daughter who had treasured life—and loved the military.
Coming out as a suicide survivor is equivalent to getting a Pap smear in Times Square … You are totally exposed — Army Captain Emily Stehr
Like so many others, Galina was searching for something when she enlisted—an adventure, a direction in life. What she got was 13 months of hell in Afghanistan, where she was assigned to assist and protect a military chaplain. Together they made the rounds at the local hospital, where he counseled severely wounded soldiers and Afghan children, some of whom were missing arms or legs, or both. The gruesome work was not the glory Galina had envisioned. And yet, while still in Afghanistan, she re-upped for another tour.
In November 2010, between deployments, the Army sent her back to the States. Linda Mattison, 44, who was Galina’s staff sergeant at Fort Carson in Colorado before she went to Afghanistan, picked her up and brought her back to the barracks. To Linda, feisty Galina was like a daughter. After her return, though, Galina seemed unusually quiet. “It’s overwhelming, coming home,” says Linda. “I just figured it was a lot for her to process.” In the weeks that followed, Linda noticed that Galina was clingy, as if she just didn’t want to be alone.
Around the holidays, Galina visited her family in Alaska. Edie sensed she was troubled. “She didn’t want to talk about anything to do with her mission,” she remembers. “She seemed withdrawn.” Galina also ran into trouble with the law—a local spa accused her of stealing money—and when she finally arrived at her base in Hawaii, she showed up in civilian clothes, without her orders or medical records. In the military, that could be grounds for disciplinary action. “It makes no sense to me why they would allow her to reenlist if her behavior was not in line with their requirements,” says Edie. Even now, Edie has more questions than answers.
Though Galina was clearly changed by her deployment in Afghanistan, nobody realized she was suicidal. Were there missed signs? Indications she was slipping? “She called me that morning to check on me—I had strep throat,” says Linda, choking back tears. “I had no idea that she was really calling to say good-bye.”
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Filed under: Resources Tagged: | Afghanistan, Army, Captain Emily Stehr, Combat, Deployment, Depression, Eagle River Alaska, Edie Bailey, Fort Carson, Galina Klippel, Iraq, Linda Mattison, Mental Health, Military, Military Family, Military Suicide, Overdose, PTSD, Staff Sergeant Stacy Pearsall, Stigma, Stress, Suicide, Suicide prevention, Vet Center, Veterans, Veterans Affairs, War, Women veterans