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Saturday, February 23, 2013

Compassion Fatigue - Dr. Pete Linnerooth Obituary

What could have saved Dr. Linnerooth?
(Another- preventable - casualty of Iraq War.)

Dr. Pete Linnerooth (1970-2013)

MANKATO, Minn. (KMSP) - Peter Linnerooth, a U.S. Army psychologist, took his own life on Jan. 2 in Mankato. 

Although the 42-year-old Bronze Star recipient is credited with helping hundreds of soldiers cope with post-traumatic stress and other mental health issues, but he may have been the victim of "compassion fatigue",  meaning, in lay terms, an underlying post traumatic stress disorder whereby a person is stoic or seemingly unconcerned about the emotional state of others.

In other words, he burned out and there was, apparently, no where he could turn when he needed "care for the caregiver".

As an Army psychologist, Linnerooth faced the challenge of preventing soldier suicides during their tour of duty, as well as two more years helping veterans in California and Nevada. 

But after five years in the Army, including 12 violent months at the height of the Iraq troop surge, Linnerooth returned to Minnesota suffering PTS himself.

Linnerooth was published in a 2011 edition of the American Psychologist, as the lead author of an article on professional burnout among military psychologists.

Along with Dr. Linnerooth's suicide, the Pentagon revealed, on the day he was buried, that a RECORD 349 MILITARY SUICIDES were reported in 2012, in Iraq.  The Associated Press reports that this record exceeded 295 American combat deaths in Afghanistan in 2012.  There were 301 military suicides reported in 2011.

The Army had the highest number of suicides among active-duty troops in 2012, with 182, but the Marines had the largest percentage increase -- up 50 percent to 48. The Air Force recorded 59 suicides and the Navy had 60.

Obviously, real people with families are the faces behind the numbers of deaths.  Cold statistics bandage a much bigger problem. Children are deeply impacted, for the rest of their lives,  after loosing  parents, especially by suicide.  Also, spouses experience the grief of wondering if anything could have been done to prevent these untimely deaths.  

But, to loose a highly trained clinician like Dr. Linerooth is tragic and costly.  Not only is his young death a monetary loss to the military (a good deal of his specialized training was likely paid by the Pentagon), but, the collateral emotional damage can't be measured. Typically, the people he saved from suicide will likely engage in a renewed grief about their own survival chances.  It's like, "Oh my God, if Dr. Linnerooth can't make it, what are my chances of staying well?"

This is what Mark Thompson writes in Time Magazine about Dr. Linnerooth, former Army psychologist, in the January 28, 2013, special report, on page 20, of the Briefing section:  

"They buried one time Army captain Pete Linnerooth on Jan. 14, at Minneapolis' Fort Snelling National Cemetery.  You won't find him listed among the US troops lost in Iraq since 2003.  Yet, the war killed Linnerooth, as surely as if he'd been hit by a sniper's bullet.  Then again, there's no roster of the lives the Army psychologist saved during his year there, either. Nor, sadly, the hundreds of haunted minds he patched back together, before his own failed him."

Thompson goes on, "Few people have better understood the perverse alchemy that can turn the rush and glory of combat into a darkening cloud of anxiety and depression.  Linnerooth watched as the military's suicide rate escalated to nearly one per day in 2012.  But, he also warned colleagues and reporters that even mental-health professionals are vulnerable.  When he shot himself at home in Mankato, Minn., on Jan. 2nd, he became the first Army psychologist deployed in the post 9/11 wars known too die by suicide."

One contributing factor to his death may have been "compassion fatigue", said Brock McNabb, who served alongside Linnerooth.  "Pete struggled with Post Traumatic Stress Disorder and depression after his deployment to Iraq," said another Army comrade.  After his five years in the Army, the Veterans Administration grated him 100 percent disability for his post traumatic stress.

Sergeant Rob Kumpf was among Dr. Linnerooth's veteran clients, who expressed grief over the loss of the man he called "Doc". "We do nothing t help people like Pete, who give their all to help those of us suffering," he said in Thompson's article.  "I hope he finds the peace in heaven that he could never find here on earth.  Rest in Peace, sir," he said.
Although the War in Iraq will not include the name of those who took their lives by suicide, these victims are as much a part of the statistics as if they were killed by a road side bomb.  In the absence of the Iraq War, we can assume that a vast majority of these preventable suicide deaths would not have happened.

History will, undoubtedly, be justifiably a very harsh judge of the second Iraq War, begun on 2003, where the premise for invasion was Weapons of Mass Destruction (WMD). But, these threats never existed.  The suicide death of Dr. Pete Linnerooth and the 349 other lost lives to suicide are among the statistics that won't be among the fatalities reported in the Iraq War, but, hopefully, the reality of this kind of collateral damage will bring much more awareness to the untended collateral damage of any, God forbid, future wars.

Meanwhile, the Veterans Administration and the Pentagon support interventions to mitigate the growing number of suicides:


Of the 2.6 million U.S. military service members deployed to Iraq and Afghanistan, it's estimated 13 percent to 20 percent have symptoms of PTS. And barely half of those diagnosed with PTS actually get treatment, often because many soldiers worry it could jeopardize their careers.

Those numbers led to a recommendation for the Institute that soldiers returning from Iraq and Afghanistan undergo annual screening for post-traumatic stress disorder and that federal agencies conduct more research to determine how well the various treatments for PTS are working.

READ MORE:  Panel calls for annual PTS screening of returning soldiers

U of M researchers find possible key to treating, understanding PTS

Read more: Peter Linnerooth helped hundreds of soldiers cope with PTS - KMSP-TV

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