An examination of the mental health crisis through the trials of one military family.
In his debut, Foreign Policy deputy editor Dreazen explains how retired Maj. Gen. Mark Graham and his wife, Carol, serve as representations of all the pain borne within America’s military community since 9/11. When the Grahams’ son Jeff was killed by an IED during his first tour in Iraq, they were already contending with the trauma of Jeff’s younger brother Kevin’s suicide. Kevin had been in a downward spiral after concealing his antidepressant usage from the ROTC program he’d felt compelled to join; his grieving parents saw “how differently the deaths of their two sons were treated by friends, relatives, and even other army officers.” As the Grahams dealt with their own anguish, they realized that the military was experiencing a spike in suicide and homicide rates in tandem with the Iraq and Afghanistan conflicts. Even as Mark received plaudits for his emergency management during Hurricane Katrina and command of Fort Carson, he perceived that the “military mental health system looked down on soldiers who said they were suffering from PTSD.” As base commander, Mark concluded that many soldiers would avoid treatment rather than face the same stigma Kevin had feared. “Mark would turn Fort Carson into a laboratory for testing new methods of eliminating the stigma around mental health issues and getting troubled soldiers the help they needed,” writes Dreazen. These innovations, such as mobile assessment teams, both won Mark admiration as the first general to openly acknowledge the crisis and probably shortened his career: “Carol had heard whispers for years that other senior officers resented how often she and Mark spoke out publicly.” Although an epilogue suggests progress has been made, Dreazen clearly feels these “changes were motivated by what army leaders could no longer deny to be a full-blown suicide epidemic,” much as the Grahams had argued.
A sad accounting of the burdens shouldered by military families and the military’s institutional resistance toward compassionate change.