By: Greg Mitchell
In recent months, the long-ignored issue of suicides among troops in Iraq, and returnees at home, has earned wide attention in the U.S. press. Many newspapers have documented tragic examples in their own backyards, the only way they can really get recognized at all.
The latest case comes today, from Dennis Yusko at the Albany (N.Y.) Times-Union, and is all too typical. The vet in this case hung himself, with his Army uniform and an angel placed nearby. Here is how his story opens.
The war in Iraq never ended for Jonathan Michael Boucher. Not when he flew home from Baghdad, not when he moved to Saratoga Springs for a fresh start and, especially, not when nighttime arrived.
Tortured by what he saw as an 18-year-old Army private during the 2003 invasion and occupation, Boucher was diagnosed with post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) and honorably discharged from the military less than two years later.
On May 15, three days before his 24th birthday, the young veteran committed suicide in his apartment’s bathroom, stunning friends and family, including more than three dozen cousins. There was no note. He was buried in the Gerald B.H. Solomon Saratoga National Cemetery just days before Memorial Day.
His death came even as Pentagon officials prepared to release numbers showing an increase in suicide and PTSD rates among active-duty troops. Some 115 killed themselves in 2007 — a 20 percent increase since 2005.
PTSD, an anxiety- and stress-related disorder, has afflicted some 40,000 American troops since 2003. The military, in last week’s report, acknowledged lengthy and repeated deployments are taking their toll.
“I (have) been shot at by AK-47s, rocket launchers, mortars and tanks,” Boucher wrote to his family in May 2003. “I didn’t think I was going to make it.”
Boucher’s short but intense life was marked by an adventurous spirit and a love for his family, his country and its military. He grew up with a zest for the outdoors and snowboarding and often visited family in the Saratoga area. He had an enormous work ethic and moral compass, family members said.
Greg Mitchell’s new book has several chapters on Iraq vet suicides. It is “So Wrong for So Long: How the Press, the Pundits — and the President — Failed on Iraq.”