Recent guardsman suicide prompts PTSD discussion

Recent guardsman suicide prompts PTSD discussion

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by Stephanie Zepelin

Bio | Email | Follow: @ktvbstephanie

KTVB.COM

Posted on July 23, 2013 at 11:22 PM

Updated Thursday, Jul 25 at 12:18 PM

BOISE -- KTVB has confirmed an Idaho Army National Guard member committed suicide at the National Guard's Orchard Combat Training Center.

KTVB has a policy that we do not report suicides unless there are extenuating circumstances surrounding it. Post traumatic stress disorder continues to be an ongoing battle for many veterans in the U.S. The U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs says as many of 30 in every 100 veterans suffer from PTSD.

Friends and family spent the weekend searching for Private First Class Erik Jorgensen. A friend of the family said Jorgensen is described as someone who loved life, but they can't say for sure why he took his own life out at the Orchard Combat Training Center. However, PTSD experts we talked to say suicide is a risk in some PTSD cases.

A Facebook post was all it took to get Maggie Haswell-Sheppard involved in the search for Jorgensen. She saw a post asking for help to look for the soldier who had been missing since late last week, and she even helped lead the search efforts.

"I'm basically thinking this kid is in trouble and I need to find him," said Haswell-Sheppard. "I took an oath to not only protect this country and defend it, but to protect the person next to me and my fellow brother in arms and that's what I'm doing, and I leave no one behind."

She met Jorgensen's family for the first time while helping look for him, but the search ended with suicide.   

"I wish I could have been everywhere," Haswell-Sheppard said with tears in her eyes. "I really wish I could have been everywhere and I really wish I could have done more for her. I am so angry that I couldn't have done more for her, that I couldn't have brought her son home to her."

The pain of losing a brother in arms is something Haswell-Sheppard says she knows too well.

"We lose soldiers and sailors and marines and airmen every day," Haswell-Sheppard said, "and sometimes it's for the wrong reasons."

She could not say what caused the Afghanistan veteran and National Guardsman to take his own life.

At the VA in Boise, there are several things they look for in new patients. Dr. Beth Fassig and Dr. Julie Sharrette are part of a team of doctors who help treat PTSD.

"We're always looking to assess for safety issues," said Dr. Fassig. "So we would always be looking for anyone seeking our care to assess for any kind of suicidal ideation or safety issues."

Doctor Fassig says almost 14 percent of Iraq and Afghanistan veterans are diagnosed with PTSD.

"People can have symptoms and not meet a full diagnostic criteria," Dr. Fassig said. "So regardless of the diagnosis, if they fully meet that criteria or not, the VA has so many different resources to help provide services to that veteran and that veteran's family."

Dr. Sharrette encourages people to look for changes in interpersonal relationships.

"As far as risk, we do see that suicidal thoughts, homicidal thoughts are all aspects that we do take into account when we're assessing for PTSD," Dr. Sharrette said.

Sharrette said symptoms vary with each case.

As a veteran herself, Haswell-Sheppard said there is something anyone can do.

"If you know a vet, you see a vet, thank them," said Haswell-Sheppard. "Sometimes the least little comment, and sometimes the least little thank you and 'I appreciate what you did' or whatever, it helps."

If you or someone you know needs help, call the Idaho Suicide Prevention Hotline at 1-800-273-TALK. Veterans can also call the VA to find out how to enroll for services at 1-208-422-1000.

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