Survivor Suicides

Alarming trend of family members committing suicide after service members die in battle

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    NEWSLETTERS

    The News4 I-Team looks at an alarming trend: Military family members committing suicide after a service member dies. (Published Thursday, May 9, 2013)

    Bill and Christine Koch had it all.

    “I would describe us as the all-American family," Bill said.

    Good jobs. Three kids. Family vacations.

    Christine Koch agreed. “I would do it all over again. We had a fairytale life.”

    Until a year into their youngest son Steven's first deployment in Afghanistan. Christine said she can still remember how he admitted on the phone for the first time to her that he was scared with the increasing number of improvised explosive devices, or IEDs.

    "He said, ‘I don't know how much longer my luck is going to hold out,’” Christine explained. “He actually said that to me and my heart sunk."

    A month later, with just a few weeks to go before returning home, the Kochs heard their doorbell ring.

    Bill said about that night, “The reaction becomes so surreal. You're looking at two guys who are pale because they have to tell you the worst news that they can ever deliver to the people that are going to be hurt the most."

    A suicide bomber had blown up a vehicle at Steven's base, killing him and another solider.

    Christine said she didn’t want to believe it. “I kept stopping them and saying, ‘You're at the wrong house, the wrong soldier.’"

    Steven's death hit the close-knit family hard, especially his older sister Lynn.

    As Bill explained it, “It was very stressful for her to deal with from the very beginning."

    Christine said, “Lynn was in denial for a long time."

    Her parents tried to help, asking her to move back home. She started therapy. But Lynn continued to withdraw, even pulling out of events to honor her brother.

    Then, Christine said, she received a note from Lynn. “She sent an email, ‘Mommy, I finally realize that Steven's gone.’ And four months later, she was gone."

    Calling it cruel deja vu, the Kochs again found themselves answering the door in the middle of the night. This time, two police officers told them Lynn had taken her own life by overdosing on pills.

    Christine remembered saying, “’Wait a minute? Are you trying to tell me my daughter is dead?’ And she said, ‘Yes ma’am, I am.’  And I just crumbled to the floor."

    The Kochs are not alone. Experts tell the News4 I-Team they are seeing an increase in cases of military family members killing themselves.

    But no one is keeping track.

    Dr. Stephen Cozza, a professor of psychiatry at the Center for the Study of Traumatic Stress, told us, “We don't have good research that would point to unique risks in certain family members about a suicide in a family."

    Dr. Cozza is heading one of the largest congressionally funded studies looking at how family members grieve after someone dies in the military. "If certain groups are particularly resilient, we want to understand what can lead to resilience,” he explained, “and how could programs better support health in the community after a death."

    So far he's interviewed about 850 adults who lost a service member since Sept. 11, 2001, hoping results from the study will help identify those most at risk.

    The Kochs admitted after losing two children, there are days when they think about suicide. “It's heartbreaking,” Christine said. “It hurts every single day."

    But Bill said, “It's tempting. But you know what the other sacrifices are. You know what agony it's going to cause."

    Instead, they push on. For their surviving son Billy. For each other. And to honor the memory of both Lynn and Steven.

    As Bill said, “Steven volunteered for the service. We've been drafted, that's how we look at it."

    Drafted to raise awareness about the struggles often missed inside the all-American family.