Sgt. Jesse Gross was going through a difficult time in his life — his wife left him, forcing him into a child custody battle that left him emotionally and financially drained. He had re-classed into information technology and the new job was presenting its own set of challenges.
“I was severely depressed,” he said. “I was talking to the chaplain in my unit, but he moved. ... So I went to our battalion doctor, and he gave me Prozac.”
Since the drug can have negative side effects, including thoughts of suicide, Gross said he was asked to tell someone if this happened.
“One day I was having a really, really bad day, and we were doing weapons training,” Gross said. “Just for a second I thought, ‘I wish I had a bullet so I could put one through my head.’
“I just didn’t want to deal with it anymore. That scared the crap out of me,” he continued. “That wasn’t me. That really terrified me. I went to see the doctor and tell him what happened.”
Felt like punishment
From that day, April 26, 2012, the sergeant said he was put through what felt more like punishment than treatment. He spent five days in Metroplex Hospital. Upon discharge, he went to Fort Hood’s Resilience and Restoration Center, where the next appointment available to him was two months later.
“After I got back there, I went to unit where I was informed by my chain of command I was now considered an extremely high risk soldier,” Gross said.
He lost the rights to drive his motorcycle, his personal firearms, his soldiers and the security clearance required to do his job.
“How am I supposed to get better when they take everything away from me?” he said. “My soldiers were the most important thing to me at the time.”
From April to October, Gross said he could get only four appointments at the outpatient mental health clinic. He was given various medications, but still was unable to do his job or get anyone to listen to him. He said the problems he had were not so much mental health-related, but involved dealing with the stressors in his life at that time.
“They were trying to medicate the problem. They didn’t care about what was causing the problem,” Gross said. “They were trying to basically put a band aid on an amputated limb.”
“I would’ve wanted to have an actual session with my chain of command, and have it where I was able to speak. Not where they were just talking to me telling me what I was thinking and what I was going to do, but them listening to me (about) what was going on,” he said.
Sharon Sutton, Suicide Prevention Program manager at Fort Hood, said they’ve increased training on finding appropriate resources.
“We want them to know what to look for as it comes up, and tell soldiers what resources to go to,” she said. “The first thing to do is look at safety. Make sure the soldiers are away from harm, then look at what help they need to get.” This help could be behavioral health care, a chaplain, financial management or social work.
“Sometimes they’ll say they can’t deal with this anymore,” Sutton said. “It may mean they are out of options. We need to determine where to go from there.”
They recently increased the number of Applied Suicide Intervention Skills Training workshops on post to educate more people on how to intervene. The two-day workshop is now held three times a week, and integrated into in-processing for leaders.
Don’t ‘create a stigma’
Maj. Gen. Anthony Ierardi, senior post commander, said when a soldier speaks out, help should come immediately.
“There should not be a lag,” he said. “We’re not always perfect, but we strive to get people to care as soon as possible.”
Prevention is also about units understanding they have to act, he added.
“They’ve got to take the appropriate action to assist and to not judge so as to not create a stigma among our troops. That they should feel comfortable. It’s about the climate of the unit that we want to have that engenders folks to come forward with their challenges.”
Gross said he doesn’t hold the Army responsible for his experience, but his unit — the name of which he did not want included.
“I love the army,” he said. “It’s certain people in the Army, because they don’t have the training on how to deal with it. They don’t have (a standard operating procedure) on how to deal with it. They make it up as they go and they get away with it.”
Now more than a year later, Gross said he is back at work and feeling better, thanks to his own personal resiliency.
“Things are getting better because I’m not going to let them get worse anymore,” he said. “To be victimized like I was, nobody should have to deal with that.”