April 14, 2010— -- In addition to the insurgents who fight from the hillsides before vanishing into caves in Afghanistan, the U.S. Army has fought an equally elusive and silent enemy here at home: suicide.
Many family members of soldiers returning from their deployment with post-traumatic stress disorder say the stigma associated with seeking psychiatric help has hurt their cause.
Last year marked the fifth consecutive year the Army experienced a record number of suicides in its ranks.
As with thousands of soldiers before them, and thousands more likely to come, Maj. Chris Galloway and Master Sgt. Jim Haus returned home tormented by their experiences at war.
"His behavior was really changing a lot after Afghanistan," Haus' wife, Amanda Cherry-Haus, said. "He was drinking a lot ... he would do all these reckless, endangering things that were obviously PTSD and say, 'No, I don't have a problem.'"
Galloway's wife, Shannon, said, "I was sensing depression and I was sensing probably some PTSD and I talked to him about it, and he was like, 'No, no, no. The Army says I'm fine. I'm fine … You're the crazy one.'"
Chris Galloway, a 36-year-old father of three, did tours in Iraq and Afghanistan. Haus, 40, served in three wars in his 22-year army career.
Both wives said they saw differences when their husbands came back from overseas.
"Something happened to him over there that totally changed him," Shannon Galloway said.
She said her husband, after months on edge in a combat zone, was unable to adjust to the different pressure of life at home. She said their marriage frayed as she pleaded with him to seek help.
"We're the ones that live with them ... and we are there when they wake up at night freaked out because of some dream or because they can't sleep," she said.
The Stigma of PTSD
She said her husband carried on at work while concealing his struggles. He was afraid that the stigma of mental health treatment could derail a promotion, she said.
Galloway said she convinced her husband to attend counseling sessions with her, but it did not last.
"He agreed to go to two sessions with me to my counselor because it was to help me," she said. "I'm like, 'OK, as long as it gets him in.' But after that, he was done."
Cherry-Haus said she watched her husband descend into a similarly dangerous depression. His drinking and infidelity made her think about walking away from the marriage, but she persisted.
"I pushed a lot, all the time, every day. 'You need to get some help. You need to get some help,'" but he fought back, insisting it was not necessary, she said.
One-hundred-sixty active duty soldiers committed suicide last year. The number pales in comparison to the tens of thousands of soldiers. But it was the fifth consecutive yearly record for suicides, despite an unprecedented effort to address the problem.
There were 39 suicides among active-duty Army personnel and 32 among not-on-active-duty personnel in the first quarter of this year, down from the comparable period in 2009 but on pace to end the year roughly equivalent to last year's 160 suicides.
"We have so many opportunities out there for them, but they are not taking advantage because they don't see a need," Brig. Gen. Colleen McGuire of the Army Suicide Prevention Task Force said. "They don't recognize it in themselves.
The stories of these two families, seemingly on the same path, diverged at the depths of despair. One soldier reached out for help, the other reached for a trigger.
"I never thought it would come to this," Shannon Galloway said.
Six weeks after coming home to Michigan, Chris Galloway stepped outside the family home and fired a single shot.
"Daddy got very sick in Afghanistan, which he did," Shannon Galloway said she told her son. "We said it was Afghanistan sickness ... and it made his heart stop. And he went to heaven."
Cherry-Haus said she knows how close her family came to a similar fate.
"I almost committed suicide," her husband said. "I had a plan and everything."
Families Need Help With PTSD
Finally, on a night Haus said he didn't want to live anymore, his wife was finally able to convince him to seek treatment.
"It was probably the hardest thing he has ever had to do in his entire life, but it was the best thing he could have ever done; for him, for me and for his family," Cherry-Haus said.
She and Galloway agreed that for the all the focus on individual soldiers, the suicide prevention effort must also involve families for it to be successful.
"It's great that we are pushing the military member toward getting help by telling them that PTSD is something that can be dealt with, but what we need to do further is to educate the family," Cherry-Haus said.
Although Galloway has lost her husband, she has continued to fight this elusive enemy.
"I need to do whatever I can to bring about change and to honor Chris so that his death is not in vain," she said. "There needs to be a way, an easy way, for the family member to go to the Army and say, 'Look this person needs help. Please help me get this person help.'"
Galloway said she believes her husband might be alive today, if only she had known where to turn.
Below is a list of resources that may be helpful if you know someone who is suffering from depression, post-traumatic stress disorder, or in need of psychiatric help.
For a the Army's comprehensive list of Suicide Prevention Program information click here.
You can reach the Military OneSource at their toll-free number 1-800-342-9647, or you can click here. If you are overseas you should refer to the Military OneSource Web site for dialing instructions for their specific location.
To contact the DCOE Outreach Center call 1-866-966-1020, send an e-mail to Resources@DCoEOutreach.org or click here.
And for information about the Army's Comprehensive Soldier Fitness Program click here.