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Deaths of 3 Fort Hood dependents raise issues

Jan. 24, 2014 - 07:45AM   |  
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AUSTIN, TEXAS — The deaths this week of a man and two young girls at a Fort Hood home, all Army dependents, is renewing questions about the stresses faced by military families.

Army investigators have said they suspect murder-suicide in the Tuesday deaths of 43-year-old Rouhad Ahamd Ezzeddine and his two daughters, 9-year-old Leila Rouhad Ezzeddine and 4-year-old Zeinab Rouhad Ezzeddine.

The three lived in the home assigned to the children’s mother, 33-year-old Private 1st Class Carla Santisteban. The soldier had recently returned from deployment to Afghanistan.

No organization tracks suicides among military family members, the Austin American-Statesman reported, although Congress has directed the secretary of defense to report by Feb. 1 on the feasibility of conducting such a study.

The need for one is vital, said Karen Ruedisueli, deputy director of government relations for the National Military Family Association.

“Anecdotally, we have heard that suicide rates among military families have increased,” she told the newspaper. “As deployments decrease . people may think that behavioral health resources for families are no longer needed. The residual effects will be long-lasting.”

The Fort Hood incident only drives that point home more vividly, said Ami Neiberger-Miller, spokeswoman for the Tragedy Assistance Program for Survivors.

“Military families tend to be very resilient, and they tend to pride themselves on being resilient,” she said. “That culture can sometimes create the sense that they shouldn’t ask for help. The question is, how do we put in good support around people so they can say, ‘Hey, I’m struggling.’”

Studies have been performed on the children of military families, with recent reports showing children of military personnel on deployment are more likely to face sadness, hopelessness, depressive symptoms and suicidal thoughts than their counterparts, and score lower on school tests the longer a parent was deployed.

The effects of deployments on spouses are sparsely studied, especially male spouses of women in uniform, since military family support groups target wives.

“Most men don’t reach out to other men to talk about emotions or feelings,” said Chris Pape, a 43-year-old husband of an Air Force major at Randolph Air Force Base in San Antonio. “And you don’t feel 100 percent welcome in typical (family readiness group) meetings. Female spouses don’t like to hang out with male spouses.”

Pape, who founded the website to bring together other male military spouses, said the mixing of genders in such groups can get complicated, in part because of fears of deployed soldiers about their spouses cheating.

“I’ve heard stories of guys being told not to show up at meetings because they make the women feel uncomfortable,” Pape said.

Pape said it’s hard to draw definitive conclusions about Tuesday’s incident until Army officials release more information, but that it’s an opportunity to start a conversation about mental health services for military husbands.

“It’s proof that not enough people even know we exist to offer help,” he said.

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