As Congress struggles to understand the shocking report of a massive increase in suicides in the Army, they might want to study the case of Army Pvt. Adam Lieberman to see how some officers treat soldiers in mental distress. Lieberman was experiencing severe mental problems after a year in Iraq qith the Ist Battalion, 67 Armored Regiment — known as “the Death Dealers.” When he tried to kill himself, he wrote his suicide note on the wall in his room. The Army reportedly responded to the suicide attempt by charging him criminally and cut a deal with this mom. If she re-painted the wall, his charges would not include defacing of government property. After she painted the wall with the help of her handicapped sister, they charged him anyway with the crime.
When he attempted to end his life with pills, Lieberman painted the following words on the wall: “I FACED THE ENEMY AND LIVED! IT WAS THE DEATH DEALERS THAT TOOK MY LIFE!” They never told the mother, who finally reached her son in the hospital days later. She says that his battalion commander, Lt. Col. Lance Kohler, at Fort Carson, Kansas, told her that she would only be notified for sure if he had succeeded in the attempt. When she asked why he was not put into a mental health treatment area of the hospital, Kohler allegedly said that he was given legal assistance instead because they wanted to criminally charge him. She said that she was told that he faced a charge of petty larceny for breaking a candy machine, going AWOL to say goodbye to a friend, and defacing government property.
The mother then went to her son’s commander, Capt. Phelps. She says that Phelps told her that if she didn’t want her son charged on the defacing count, she could get paint and equipment from supply and re-paint the wall. She did the job, but says that they charged her son anyway with the offense.
Under this logic, if a soldier jumps from a window and splatters over a bench or crushes a car’s roof, they would be guilty of the same offense if they survive.
The military continues to enjoy immunity from tort lawsuits under the infamous Feres Doctrine. In the case of a private employers ignoring the signs of mental illness and self-medication that the mother has described, there would be a serious threat of liability. Ultimately, most suicide attempts are not treated as a matter for liability for an employer. However, Feres has been blamed for decades in producing a lack of response or concern in many cases.
For the Salon article, click here.