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Brother of military suicide victim encouraged by new statistics

By Grace Ditzler, KTVM Reporter, gditzler@ktvm.com
Published On: Apr 25 2014 10:49:15 PM MDT
BOZEMAN, Mont. -

Newly released numbers show suicide numbers among active-duty military troops have dropped by more than 15 percent in the last year, but the numbers increased when it came to Army National Guard and Reserve soldiers.

Here's a breakdown:

The numbers, released by the military, show 343 suicides by active-duty troops in 2012, and 140 in the Reserve.

In 2013, that dropped to 289, but in the Reserves it rose to 152 suicides.

The majority of active duty suicides were committed by Army soldiers.

To one Gallatin Valley man, these numbers, though encouraging, are hard to look at, after losing his Army veteran brother to suicide last year.

"My brother was my only sibling," said Matt Christiansen. "He was my best friend."

It's been nearly a year since Wade's death. Matt explained on Memorial Day last year, Wade shot himself during a traffic stop in downtown Bozeman. Wade was on the way to the hospital to get help, when police pulled him over.

"He was out of medication and we were waiting on the next delivery," Matt said. "I knew he was out and I knew he was going through withdrawal and he was having a tough day."

Wade, who was an Army veteran, was on pain medication after being struck by an IED in Afghanistan in 2010.

"He had a collapsed lung, on the scene, his rifle hit him in the jaw and crushed his entire jaw from the joint here all the way to the chin, and he suffered permanent blindness in his left eye," Christiansen explained.

Wade was medically discharged, and came back to live with Christensen west of Bozeman.

"[He] tried to continue on living as normal life as he could," he said.

But Wade suffered from his injuries, and went through withdrawals when his medications ran out.

"They would put him into another state of mind, into another person," he said, "I'd seen this a few times."

Christensen said he thinks Wade had the right help.

"What really worries me about this whole situation is I can't think of anything that could have been given to him or offered to him or could have been provided to him that wasn't, yet we still have this problem."

So since Wade's death, Christiansen has been educating himself on military suicide.

Christensen said when he heard this year's report that suicides across active-duty troops dropped last year, he felt encouraged.

"We have men and women dying by suicide during or after military service at rates significantly higher than they are dying in combat zones and so it's gratifying to hear that people care about his, and to some extent, efforts to curb that trend are at least partially successful," he said.

But, he said, there's still a long way to go.

"I think the problem is two-fold," he explained. "We need to pay attention to the psychological trauma that exists for combat troops...I but think we really need to focus on what our treatment after the fact is too, whether that's educating families on what a lot of these prescription medications mean or whether that's a more proactive approach that than simply medicinal dosage."

But he hopes those numbers will continue to decline, for the sake of soldiers and their families.

In March, Senator John Walsh introduced the Suicide Prevention for America's Veterans Act to help improve the quality of veteran care and access to services.

The bill would promote review of wrongful discharges, encourage health professionals to work at the VA, and improve mental health care and suicide prevention programs.