Saturday, July 13, 2013

Soldier's death by suicide reflects national issue

Soldier's death by suicide reflects national issue
The Bozeman Daily Chronicle
By Troy Carter
Jul. 12, 2013

BOZEMAN, MONT. — Wade Christiansen dreamed of being a soldier from a young age. He joined the Army’s 82nd Airborne Division after high school. Being a paratrooper made Wade proud. Jumping from airplanes excited the daredevil from Red Lodge. In 2009, his unit deployed to Afghanistan.

During a mission, Christiansen’s squad was attacked with a string of six improvised explosive devices. The left side of Christiansen’s jaw was so badly injured it was replaced with titanium. His arm, face and neck were peppered with shrapnel, and the retina in his left eye detached. Two of his colleagues were killed. Emotional and physical injuries became a permanent part of his life.

After Christiansen was discharged from the military, he moved to Four Corners and attended Montana State University as a photography student. He began working with Operation Second Chance, a group that helps disabled veterans, first as a client and later as a peer counselor.

“Ninety-nine percent of the time, he was his great normal self, but there was that 1 percent of the time he would get off his meds, or there would be a day when he’d be waiting for a shipment from the VA and he’d get very, very down,” said his brother, Matt Christiansen.

On May 28, Wade was with his girlfriend in the living room of the home he shared with his brother. Around 1:30 a.m., Wade reversed his Jeep out of the garage, hitting the door as his girlfriend tried to close it. Wade’s brother and girlfriend frantically tried reaching him on his cellphone, knowing Wade was in trouble.

When Wade finally picked up the phone, he told his girlfriend he was on his way to the hospital’s emergency room to kill himself.

On his way, Wade was pulled over by the police for running a red light. Two minutes later, Wade used his pistol to take his own life in the middle of Main Street in Bozeman. He was 23 years old.

Matthew Kuntz , state director of the National Alliance on Mental Illness, said his stepbrother, Chris Dana, committed suicide after coming home from Iraq.

“Everybody knew Chris had post-traumatic stress disorder, but no one realized how dangerous it was,” Kuntz said. “I thought I had him lined up to get treatment from the VA, but he never went.”

Kuntz said one of the biggest challenges is with the way potential suicide victims are identified. Mandatory self-screenings before and after deployments are a step forward, but at-risk people are not always showing symptoms or hide their problem.
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