Gilroy CA tragedy an extreme example of PTSD
Post-traumatic stress disorder among veterans of the nation's wars of the past decade has skyrocketed, experts say - and there is no worse result than what happened in Gilroy this week, when an Iraq war veteran allegedly killed his young sister, himself and probably their mother.
Textbook warning signs of PTSD had been apparent for months with former Army Spec. Abel Gutierrez. But although police, veterans counselors and Gutierrez's family tried to help him, in the end it was not enough.
Gutierrez was deployed to Iraq and Kuwait twice between 2005 and 2010, and relatives told police that after he came home from the second tour he was not the same. He woke screaming at imaginary enemies and took to swearing at people in the street and packing pistols, they said.
The problems got worse this winter when he moved from Washington state, where he had joined the National Guard after being discharged from the Army in 2008, and began living with his mother and sister.
A Gilroy police officer went to the home Feb. 29 and again March 6 and referred Gutierrez to veterans counselors. But with the family still trying to work out tensions and Gutierrez not posing an immediate danger to anyone, there was no legal ability to institutionalize him, police said.
Then on Wednesday, time ran out. A roommate found the bodies of Gutierrez and his 11-year-old sister, Lucero Gutierrez, in the family apartment. Police believe he shot her and himself.
Investigators are looking for their mother, Martha Gutierrez. But after discovering her cell phone and evidence of a gunshot and struggle in her son's Ford Mustang, they believe Gutierrez killed her.
"It really looks like he just snapped," police Sgt. Chad Gallacinao said Friday.
The tragedy is an extreme example of the growing anguish experienced by men and women who have worn military uniforms.
A Pew Research Center study this winter found that 37 percent of veterans who had served in Iraq and Afghanistan believe they have PTSD, as opposed to 16 percent of those who served in the military before 2001.
The number of suicides among active-duty personnel has jumped more than 25 percent since 2005, according to the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs, and most experts agree the number has probably also risen among veterans.
A lot of this stress is blamed on more-frequent redeployments for troops in the modern volunteer military. Some soldiers serve four tours of duty in war zones.
"Redeployment is definitely a problem," said Dr. Lucretia Mann, clinic supervisor at the Santa Cruz County Veterans Center.
"It often takes a year or more for the symptoms to stew when a vet comes home," she said. "So you need to watch for the signs. If your partner gives you an ultimatum to seek help, you have trouble on the job or can't concentrate in school, that's the time to come back to see us."