A Tragic Suicide That Might Have Been Avoided: Military Connection

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By Debbie Gregory.

Chrystal Akins has endured a pain that most of us pray we will never experience. She had to bury her child. But Georgia National Guard Spc. Stephen Akins’ death was a tragedy that perhaps could have been avoided.

Spc. Akin had a history of seizures, combat blast exposure and suicide attempts. If ever there was a case for a soldier to be medically retired, this was it. But the Army failed to see it that way. Patrick Lillard, the psychiatrist counseling Akins, said the soldier was in desperate need of more help than the Army could provide, and he tried to arrange hospitalization at Walter Reed National Military Medical Center in Washington shortly before Akins was to leave the military.

But a two-star general with no medical background concluded that Spc. Akins’ acting out behavior had nothing to do with traumatic brain injury or emotional problems. Instead of a medical discharge, which was clearly warranted, the general kicked him out of the Army.

And just six months after he was expelled, Akins was found dead of an apparent suicide by overdose. His body was discovered by his mother.

It is a known statistic that combat veterans are not only more likely to have suicidal thoughts, often associated with posttraumatic stress disorder (PTSD) and depression, but they are more likely to act on them. The Army has struggled with giving soldiers adequate care for alcohol and drug abuse, often times a result of emotional illnesses and/or brain injury trauma from combat.The Army’s substance abuse program has declined in quality of care since it shifted to non-medical management in 2010, as Army leaders decide whether to shift the program back to medical supervision.

Although the clinic at Fort Gordon, where Akins was treated, is among the best in the Army, it still failed him.

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A Tragic Suicide That Might Have Been Avoided: Military Connection: by Debbie Gregory