Can Coffee Prevent Military Suicides?

It is difficult to watch this video without both crying and being inspired.  Ashley Joppa-Hagemann recounts her husband’s struggles before he killed himself to avoid an eighth or ninth tour in the Iraq-Afghanistan Wars. Ashley confronted Donald Rumsfeld last week over the lies that led her husband to enlist.  This led to her appearing on Democracy Now on Tuesday and being featured in Amy Goodman’s column:

“One person convinced by Rumsfeld’s rhetoric was Jared August Hagemann.

Ashley Joppa-Hagemann

“Hagemann enlisted in the Army to serve his country, to confront the threats repeated by Defense Secretary Rumsfeld. When the U.S. Army Ranger received the call for his most recent deployment (his wife can’t recall if it was his seventh or eighth), the pressure became too much. On June 28, 2011, 25-year-old Hagemann shot himself on the Joint Base Lewis-McChord, near Seattle. The Pentagon notes that Hagemann died of a ‘self-inflicted’ gunshot wound, but has not yet called it a suicide.

“Hagemann had threatened suicide several times before. He was not alone. Five soldiers reportedly committed suicide at Fort Lewis in July. It has been estimated that more than 300,000 returning troops suffer from PTSD or depression.

“Hagemann’s widow, Ashley Joppa-Hagemann, found out that Rumsfeld was doing a book signing on the base. On Friday, Aug. 26, she handed Rumsfeld a copy of the program from her late husband’s memorial service. She recounted, ‘I told him that I wanted him to see my husband, and so he would know—he could put a face with at least one of the soldiers that had lost their lives because of his lies from 9/11.'”

Joppa-Hagemann will be speaking at and participating in a conference on September 16-18 in Virginia.  She has begun speaking out because she heard someone else doing the same, and because a group of veterans in Washington State has helped her to do so.  Other bereaved military family members are already beginning to get involved as a result of hearing Hagemann.

These connections, and the Rumsfeld encounter, are the work of an anti-war GI coffee house called Coffee Strong located within 300 meters of the gates of Fort Lewis in Lakewood, WA.  I spoke on Wednesday with Joseph Carter, Co-Executive Director of Coffee Strong and a member of Iraq Veterans Against the War.  I recommend listening to the audio.

Can “Support the Troops” mean something more than “Continue the Wars”?

Carter described to me the difficult but critical work engaged in by coffee houses like this one, which was opened in 2008 but follows in the tradition of Vietnam War era coffee houses, as do others opened around the country in recent years.

Coffee Strong helps soldiers get counseling and learn their rights.  While the U.S. casualties in Afghanistan continue to mount, they are less than the casualties of veterans who have been returned “safely” home but who are tortured by post traumatic stress disorder.  Coffee Strong helps those unable or unwilling to remain in the military to find alternatives.

While our government continues wars opposed by the majority of us and abandons veterans to their suffering, those who try to provide support are naturally denounced as traitors.  Someone has even lit an incendiary device in front of Coffee Strong.

Joseph Carter laughs off the hostility and threats issued by rightwing war advocates.  Perhaps such threats appear slight to someone like Carter who has been through the mind-warping hell that is war.

After watching him suffer, Hagemann believes her husband is better off now, out of his pain.  If her voice prevents someone else entering that hell it will have done more good than most of us can imagine.





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