I still believe in NAMI but I no longer believe in the NAMI Veterans Council. The decision to award Dr. Ira Katz for suicide prevention is akin to awarding a vampire for testing blood. Katz, as reported here (on Wounded Times) countless times, was refusing to admit there was a problem with veterans committing suicide. Everything he did, what they are awarding him for, he was forced to do. The Veterans Council is giving him an award for what it took an act of Congress to do!
This is one of the stories about a soldier that committed suicide.
The Life and Lonely Death of Noah Pierce
text and photos by Ashley Gilbertson, from the Virginia Quarterly Review
Noah Pierce’s headstone gives his date of death as July 26, 2007, though his family feels certain he died the night before, when, at age 23, he took a handgun and shot himself in the head. No one is sure what pushed him to it. He said in his suicide note it was impotence—one possible side effect of posttraumatic stress disorder (PTSD). It was “the snowflake that toppled the iceberg,” he wrote. But it could have been the memory of the Iraqi child he crushed under his Bradley. It could have been the unarmed man he shot point-blank in the forehead during a house-to-house raid, or the friend he tried madly to gather into a plastic bag after he had been blown to bits by a roadside bomb, or it could have been the doctor he killed at a checkpoint.
Noah grew up in Sparta, Minnesota, a town of fewer than 1,000 on the outskirts of the Quad Cities—Mountain Iron, Virginia, Eveleth, and Gilbert—on the Mesabi Iron Range. Discovered on the heels of the Civil War, the range’s ore deposit is the largest in the United States. Around the clock, deep metallic groans come out of the ground and freight trains barrel through, horns screeching. Locals are proud of their hardworking, hard-drinking heritage. There are more than 20 bars on Eveleth’s half-mile-long main street. On a typical night last May, loudspeakers affixed to lampposts blared John Denver’s “Take Me Home, Country Roads,” and Harleys thundered through town. One bar closed early, when a drunk got thrown through the front window.
Noah was a quiet, sensitive kid. He kept a tight circle of friends and passed time with them building tree forts and playing army in the woods. Noah’s biological father separated from Noah’s mother shortly after she became pregnant, but Tom Softich, Noah’s stepfather, treated the thin-skinned boy as his own. When Noah turned 6, Tom took him hunting, and by 13 Noah had his own high-powered rifle. For practice, they went rabbit shooting together at a small clearing a mile from their house. It became such a regular place to find Noah that his family and friends began referring to the clearing simply as “the spot.”
When Noah went missing in July 2007, after a harrowing year adjusting to home following two tours in Iraq, police ordered a countywide search. His friend Ryan Nelson thought he might know where to look. When he pulled up to the spot, he immediately recognized Noah’s truck. Inside, Ryan found his friend slumped over the bench seat, his head blown apart, the gun in his right hand. Half a bottle of Jack Daniel’s Special Blend lay on the passenger seat, and beer cans were strewn about. On the dash lay Noah’s photo IDs; he had stabbed each photo through the face. And on the floorboard was the scrawled, rambling suicide note. It was his final attempt to explain the horrors he had seen—and committed.
In April 2008, Ira R. Katz, deputy chief patient care services officer for mental health at the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs, became embroiled in scandal when a memo surfaced in which he instructed members of his staff to suppress the results of an internal investigation into the number of veterans attempting suicide. Based on their surveys, along with tabulations from the National Center for Health Statistics and the Centers for Disease Control, Katz estimated that between 550 and 650 veterans were committing suicide each month. It pains Noah’s family and friends that the Pentagon will never add him—nor the thousands like him—to the official tally of 4,000-plus war dead.
Likewise, PTSD and minor traumatic brain injuries (MTBI) are excluded from the count of 50,000 severe combat wounds—even though PTSD and MTBI often have far greater long-term health effects than bullet wounds or even lost limbs. A study by the RAND Corporation found that approximately 300,000 Iraq and Afghanistan veterans—one in five—suffer from depression or stress disorders and another 320,000 suffer from MTBIs that place them at a higher risk for depression and stress disorders.
Noah’s mother, Cheryl Softich, believes her son’s death could have been avoided had he received counseling. Statistically, veterans outside the VA system are four times more likely to attempt suicide than those within the system. Now Cheryl’s mission is to have a clause inserted into every standard military contract that would require veterans to visit a therapist every two weeks of the first year after a combat deployment. “Soldiers are taught to follow orders,” she says. “It needs to be mandatory. Noah was an excellent soldier, and if it was mandatory, he would have gone faithfully to every appointment.”
Yet this is what the Veterans Council released for the award to Katz
NAMI Veterans Council Dedication To Veterans Mental Health Care Award
Ira Katz, MD
Dr. Ira Katz left a comfortable position at the University of Pennsylvania and the VA Medical Center in Philadelphia to join the Department of Veterans Affairs. Within two years of his arrival, members of Congress and the press were calling for his resignation or termination over the issue of rising suicides among veterans, especially veterans of the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan. In spite of blistering criticism, Dr. Katz worked tirelessly behind the scenes to launch the VA's first ever suicide prevention initiative, including a nation wide crisis call line in conjunction with SAMHSA that has intervened in thousands of potential suicides by veterans. While managing this delicate task and fending off critics, Dr. Katz spearheaded VA-wide approval of a dramatic reform of its mental health programs to embrace recovery principles. All veterans receiving mental healthcare in the VA are better served today because of the work of Dr. Ira Katz. We are proud to honor him for his dedication to improving the mental health and the mental health care of veterans.
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