She Survived Iraq – Then Shot Herself at Home — (Editor and Publisher)

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Editor and Publisher

By Greg Mitchell

Published: November 13, 2006 12:10 PM ET

NEW YORK – Her name doesn’t show on any official list of American military deaths in the Iraq war, by hostile or non-hostile fire, who died in that country or in hospitals in Europe or back home in the USA. But Iraq killed her just as certainly.

She is Jeanne “Linda” Michel, a Navy medic. She came home last month to her husband and three kids (ages 11, 5, and 4), delighted to be back in her suburban home of Clifton Park in upstate New York. Michel, 33, would be discharged from the Navy in a few weeks, finishing her five years of duty.

Two weeks after she got home, she shot and killed herself.

“She had come through a lot and she had always risen to challenges,” her husband, Frantz Michel, who has also served in Iraq, lamented last week. Now he asks why the Navy didn’t do more to help her.

Michel’s story has now been probed by reporter Kate Gurnett in today’s Albany Times-Union. It’s headlined, “A casualty far from the battlefield.

And yet, in many ways, not far at all.

Why did it happen? “Like thousands of others returning from Iraq, her mental state was fractured,” Gurnett explains. “And it went untreated. Within two weeks, Linda Michel would become a private casualty of war. Re-entry into the world of peace can be harder than deployment, experts say. Picking up where you left off doesn’t just happen….

“Women experience stronger forms of post-traumatic stress disorder and have higher PTSD rates, experts say. In response, the Veterans Affairs Department launched a $6 million study of female veterans.
Seeking treatment — seen by some as a weakness — may be even tougher for women, who still feel the need to prove themselves to men in military service.”

In fact, this past August, three veterans in New York’s Adirondack region committed suicide within three weeks, according to Helena Davis, deputy director of the Mental Health Association in New York.

Michel has served under extremely stressful conditions at Camp Bucca in southern Iraq, a U.S-run prison where guards shot four inmates dead in a 2005 riot — and an episode of female mudwrestling drew headlines. Michel was treated for depression and prescribed Paxil, but they took her off that medicine when she returned home. Her husband was not informed.

“I just wish the Navy would have done some more follow-up, instead of just letting her come home,” Frantz, who is on the division staff of the Army National Guard, told the reporter. “If somebody needs Paxil in a combat zone, then that’s not the place for them to be. You either send them to a hospital or you send them home and then make sure that the family members know and that they get follow-up care.”

He has pressed the Navy for answers: “Why wasn’t she sent to a facility to resolve the issues? Not keep her in Iraq and give her some antidepressant medication and then just send her home. So those are the answers that I don’t have. Which makes me a little angry because I know what is supposed to occur.”

Times Union carried another lengthy story on Sunday, by Dennis Yusko, on post-traumatic stress syndome (PTSD) and Iraq veterans. “The number of Iraq and Afghanistan veterans getting treatment for PTSD at VA hospitals and counseling centers increased 87 percent from September 2005 to June 2006 — to 38,144, according to the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs,” Yusko revealed.

“At least 30 percent of those who fought in Iraq or Afghanistan are now diagnosed with PTSD, up from 16 percent to 18 percent in 2004, said Charlie Kennedy, PTSD program director and lead psychologist at the Stratton Veterans Affairs Medical Center. Of the 400 Capital Region vets in the program, 81 served in Iraq or Afghanistan, Kennedy said, and that number is growing. ‘This kind of warfare is devastating,’ Kennedy said. ‘You don’t know who is your friend and who is your enemy.'”

Greg Mitchell ( gmitchell@editorandpublisher.com) is editor of E&P.