A 19-year-old 3rd Infantry Division soldier took his own life last week while serving in Iraq, according to his father.
The Department of Defense released a statement Monday saying the circumstances surrounding the death of Spc. Travis M. Virgadamo were under investigation, but in an interview with Las Vegas NBC-affiliate KVBC Robert Michael Virgadamo said his son died in Taji, Iraq, on Aug. 30 after shooting himself.
“If he’d have been killed in combat, a land mine or something, I could have accepted it,” the grieving father said. “He was not the kind of kid that would take that easy way out like that.”
Virgadamo was only a few months into his deployment, serving as a member of the 3rd ID’s 3rd Squadron, 7th Cavalry Regiment, 2nd Brigade Combat Team.
The teenager had been suffering from depression and panic attacks for at least a year, however, and detailed some of his troubles in a blog he kept on MySpace.com.
“For those of you that don’t know I have a slight problem dealing with stress and it has affected my military career,” he wrote in a blog entry titled “going crazy” on Dec. 10, 2006. “Well the Army has said they were going to take some action but that’s all they said, so the last few nights I haven’t been able to sleep trying to figure out what they are gonna do.”
Virgadamo began seeing a psychiatrist and was placed on anti-depressants, a factor his father believes someone should have taken into account when deciding his son’s deployment to Iraq.
“To me, I don’t think he should have been in a combat situation, taking these kinds of (medications),” he said.
While the elder Virgadamo does not blame the Army for his only son’s death, he hopes the military will implement policies to better serve soldiers with mental health problems and prevent another family from suffering his family’s pain.
“I know what I’m going through,” he said fighting back tears, “and I don’t want any other family, any other father, to have to go through this.”
The father added he did not want his son to be remembered as a soldier who committed suicide or a statistic in a future study.
“He was a caring, very, very caring young man,” he said.
Virgadamo’s death comes just weeks after the release of the 2006 Army Suicide Event Report, which indicated the branch’s suicide rate has steadily increased since 2004.
The ASER, a study that tracks suicide attempts, completions and factors involved, showed in 2006 there were 99 suicides within the Army, 30 in Iraq or Afghanistan. This is up from 87 suicides in 2005 and 67 in 2004.
Preliminary data for the first half of this year point to a possible decline in the number of suicides across the service in 2007, but an increase among troops serving in combat in Iraq and Afghanistan, according to an Associated Press report.