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  • Suicides in Iraq, questions at home

    Pentagon tight-lipped as self-inflicted military deaths mount

    By Theola Labbé

    Updated: 12:16 a.m. ET Feb. 19, 2004

    Two-year-old Jada Suell tumbled out of the car and ran ahead of everyone -- her grandmother, her mother, her cousins and her 4-year-old sister, Jakayla -- toward the grave of Joseph Dewayne Suell.

    "Dada," said the little girl. In the Sunday afternoon quiet of Cedar Grove cemetery, her toddler voice reverberated like a shout.

    "Yes, we're going to Daddy's grave," her grandmother Rena Mathis said reassuringly.

    The silver grave cover bore colorful wreaths and American flags -- a nod to Suell's three years of military service. He was deployed to Iraq in April 2003 as an Army petroleum supply specialist out of Fort Sill, Okla. Less than two months later, he was dead.

    A report provided to the family at their request says that the 24-year-old died of a drug overdose on Father's Day, one of 22 suicides reported among troops in Iraq last year.

    According to William Winkenwerder Jr., assistant secretary of defense for health affairs, who discussed the suicides in a briefing last month, that represents a rate of more than 13.5 per 100,000 troops, about 20 percent higher than the recent Army average of 10.5 to 11. The Pentagon plans to release the findings of a team sent to Iraq last fall to investigate the mental health of the troops, including suicides.

    The number Winkenwerder cited does not include cases under investigation, so the actual number may be higher. It also excludes the suicides by soldiers who have returned to the United States.


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