Fort Eustis soldiers share experiences with suicide during Army-wide stand-down

Posted at 8:39 PM, Sep 27, 2012
and last updated 2012-09-28 06:11:11-04

Many will never forget September 11th, but for Chief Warrant Officer 4 Cliff Bauman, it's September 12 that haunted him.

He helped in the search and rescue at the Pentagon.

“Everybody I saw wasn't a whole person,” said Bauman. “I had nightmares of things I saw on a nightly basis, so then I started not sleeping, because I didn't want to have those dreams. Then I started drinking more to compensate, because if I passed out, I didn’t remember my dreams.”

Things got worse around the first 9/11 Anniversary, when he read a newspaper article about the survivors.

“A 10-year-old had written about his mom, and I had crawled over half her body. That is really when I started the downward spiral,” said Bauman.

That spiral eventually led him to attempt suicide four months later.

“I wrote on a napkin and said I didn’t want to live with the guilt of not finding anybody alive. I took 20 sleeping pills and laid on the couch,” said Bauman. “It’s a slippery slope, and for me I went quick.”

His co-workers actually did notice the warning signs and asked Bauman to get help, but he was scared.

“You just assume this type of issue would end my career,” said Bauman. “I resisted treatment because of what I thought the military would think.”

Now, the record numbers of suicides are a top priority for the Army.

To deal with the growing epidemic, generals held a “Suicide Stand-Down” on posts nationwide Thursday, a day solely dedicated to awareness and prevention, in response to a historic number of suicides this year.

Army-wide, 191 suicides have been reported—more than the number of soldiers who have died in combat.

In just the first half of 2012, Fort Eustis alone reported 2 confirmed suicides, and six suspected suicides.

The numbers are four times higher than last year.

Behavioral doctors at McDonald Army Health Center say even though the number of suicides has been rising at Fort Eustis, the number of people seeking treatment is also rising.

In 2008, they had about 3,000 patient visits for PTSD and suicide treatment. In 2011, they had more than 12,000.

That’s a 400% increase in three years.

To put things in perspective, the active duty population on Fort Eustis and Fort Story combined is about 8,000 soldiers.

Many of those are trainees who have never deployed, but soldiers like them still account for more than half of the Army's suicides.

Captain Ryan Harrison found out the hard way after one of his soldiers committed suicide last year.

“It was an incredible shock to me, an eye opener,” said Harrison. “It can happen to everybody, and it doesn't have to be combat related.”

Army leaders say after 11 years of war, they still cannot point to one single cause or identifying trend that leads to suicide, so to tackle the issue, they are teaching soldiers how to catch the warning signs and how to cope with what will be a long and difficult road to recovery.

“Identifying the sign is the first step. If they can identify the sign in their friend or peer, then that’s great. Then, the second step is how to deal with it,” said Harrison.

“What I try to tell them is go get help, because I am someone who has been down that road and knows what that path leads to,” said Bauman.