Army, advocates working to help at-risk soldiers - KPLC 7 News, Lake Charles, Louisiana

Army, advocates working to help at-risk soldiers

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FORT CAMPBELL, KY (WSMV) -

All this week, the Channel 4 I-Team has exposed serious questions about the deaths of 17 Fort Campbell soldiers. Each took his own life, and in many cases their families say warning signs were missed by the military.

Now, as Fort Campbell takes new, bold steps to save soldiers' lives, some question if what the military is doing will work.

Fort Campbell leaders are clear about this: they are acknowledging this is a problem, and are taking very public steps to try and stop the suicides.

But those suffering from Post Traumatic Stress Disorder, and others who have lost soldiers to suicide say something very basic needs to change first.

As a Marine, Zachary Bell, went to Afghanistan wanting to serve his country, and he returned bearing battle scars no one can see.

"Little things that you didn't think would bother you do, like fireworks on the Fourth of July or somebody slamming the door, just not hearing a sound and not knowing what's making it," Bell said.

While struggling with PTSD, Bell hit another low, one of the Marines with whom he deployed took his own life.

"I felt like I failed. He was a really good kid," Bell said.

Now a staff member of a nonprofit working to curb soldier suicides, Bell is among those outside and inside the military trying to turn the tide with differing opinions of how to do it.

First, there are the very public demonstrations by Fort Campbell to show how seriously they're taking the problem.

Last month, the post broke ground on a new facility devoted to treating PTSD and traumatic brain injuries.

The new resilience center is open with weights and yoga mats for soldiers to come in, and work off stress.

And perhaps the most visible change is just outside the barracks, where soldiers come seek help at a mental health facility.

But Bell fears some will still avoid the public places to seek help.

"And to put a building right in front of a barracks where they live is probably the worst place of all time. That's the biggest thing, it's the fear and the perception that you'll be seen as weak," he said.

The Tennessee Suicide Prevention Network works with Fort Campbell, and recommends a larger staff and more money spent on suicide prevention.

"If they had more funding, where suicide prevention staff were 100 percent, that could make a big difference," said Scott Ridgway, with the Tennessee Suicide Prevention Network.

And what may be the biggest hurdle is perception. The military is making a big push for soldiers to be open about their problems.

But Dawn Sult-Williams, whose son-in law was accused of murdering her daughter before killing himself, says soldiers still fear, if they talk they'll lose their career.

"I would like for us to really take care of the soldiers, to try to let them know that we do care, and let them know that admitting there is something wrong is not going to result in immediate discharge and loss of your income," Sult-Williams said.

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