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Diary of a Suicide Page 1

For two years Jason Ermer fought to make it home from Iraq. Last New Year’s Eve, he gave up.

By Stephen Dark
Posted // December 3,2008 -
It was just after midnight on Dec. 31, 2007, and bitterly cold outside, when two Ogden police officers knocked on the door of Jason Ermer’s home.

Earlier that night, Danny Murchie, an addictions counselor at the U.S. Department of Veteran’s Affairs (VA) Salt Lake City office, had called Ogden police and asked for a courtesy check on Ermer, his 28-year-old client, a recent Iraq war veteran. Murchie had talked with Ermer and feared he might harm himself.

When no one answered at the Ermer home, police followed footprints in the snow a few blocks into the Ogden Canyon foothills. Near a large boulder, a man’s body lay in the snow, blood pooling near his head. His breathing was slow and gargly.

Ermer was dressed in a black leather jacket and a baseball hat with the logo “Airborne.” When paramedics moved Ermer, barely breathing, to a stretcher, they found his black Ruger .45 pistol beneath him. Hours later, Ermer died at McKay-Dee Hospital Center.

A native of Roy, Utah, Jason Ermer served his country for a year in the northern Iraq city of Mosul in 2003. He was a soldier in the 37th Engineering Battalion of the 82nd Airborne division, later of the 101st Airborne. He was redeployed to Fort Bragg, N.C., in March 2005 and discharged from the Army seven months later. On Nov. 11, 2005, he returned to Utah with his wife Brandi and their newborn daughter Marley.

But Jason was scarcely the same man who had enlisted three and a half years earlier. He brought back to Utah constant pain from a parachuting injury to his neck and lower back, a growing addiction to painkillers and Iraq-fueled nightmares that wouldn’t let him sleep at night. One particularly graphic flashback plagued him—the last terrified look of an Iraqi child, who fell beneath the wheels of a Humvee Jason was driving near Mosul.

When he could hardly function anymore, Jason’s family says, he voluntarily entered the VA system for treatment. But the VA, after helping him with counseling, ultimately added insult to his injuries. In the early hours of Thanksgiving Day 2007, staff members suspected the confused veteran was high. In the emergency room, Jason later told his parents, he was held down and forcibly catheterized by several nurses and security personnel to obtain a urine sample for a drug test. His parents later obtained medical records from the VA that confirmed Jason’s story. The test, his parents add, came back negative. “Now I know what a woman feels like being raped,” he told his wife afterwards in tears. One month later, Jason was dead.

On a recent rainy night, 28-year-old Brandi Ermer stands beside the boulder where her husband shot himself. She looks toward her former home and says of Jason’s two-block journey to his suicide site: “It’s the longest walk anyone ever does.”

Jason’s suicide is a bitter symbol, a summation of issues that many Iraq veterans reportedly struggle with—marital and financial difficulties, health problems, post-traumatic stress disorder and drug addiction. His is also a journey that many other Iraq veterans in Utah are all too familiar with. Since the end of 2007, 130 Utah veterans have attempted suicide, according to the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs. Of the seven Utah veterans who succeeded in taking their own lives since Jason’s death—down from 13 in 2007—six were from the Korean or Vietnam War era. Only Jason served in Iraq. Of the 130 attempts, however, almost a third were by veterans young enough to have served in Afghanistan and Iraq.

Mike Koplin, suicide-prevention coordinator for the Salt Lake City VA office, is one of 150 such specialists appointed nationwide in April 2007. “The problem is increasing as vets come home and try to make the transition,” from soldier to civilian, Koplin says. For Iraq veteran and Salt Lake City antiwar activist Andy Figorski, Jason’s life and death offer a painful mirror of what might have been, indeed what still might be for other soldiers returning from the Middle East. “I could see myself in that kid, looking for a warm place, for acceptance in society,” he says. “He went to war thinking he was doing right in the world, promoting human rights, peace?—then he ran over a kid in a Humvee and the downward spiral began.”

When Jason returned to Utah after his discharge in November 2005, he drove from Fort Bragg with his older brother, David, a captain at Riverdale City Fire Department. They planned on driving straight from North Carolina to Ogden, stopping only for dinner. As David later told the crowd at Jason’s funeral, “That didn’t work out too well.” When they reached Tennessee, they encountered rain “like we had never seen.” Tornadoes forced them to hole up in a small truck stop where they waited out the storm, “laughing at our luck.” They made it to their parents’ yellow-ribbon festooned home in three days.

Jason seemed safe at last. But in so many tragic ways, he never left that storm behind.

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Post a comment
Posted // June 17,2010 at 18:59

Jason was my friend i miss you buddy


Posted // April 1,2010 at 16:45

A soldier, especially a paratrooper, has a personal responsibility to their own situation. Paratroopers are multi-volunteers, meaning they have signed their name repeaditly to volunteer for basic training, MOS training, Airborne training, Ranger school etc. They are given honors and distintions that no other person in the world can have. This is the explicit reason we have a volunteer military. No one has ever said war is heaven. Young men and women who sign their names need to be aware they are going to be handed a weapon and thrown into the depths of hell if the American people so wish it. The American soldier takes on this responsibility because they have the individual belief that it is nessacary. Todays soldiers have the honor of claiming that they made the personal choice to "heed the call." A Veteran has the same responibility as he/she did when they where a soldier. If you see the Devil he is going to come back and make visits to make sure you didnt forget about him. There are multiple resources witin the Military and community to assist veterans. It is up to the veteran to employ the same attributes that are so cherished by the American taxpapayers such as resiliency to help themselves and not give in to the enemy.


Posted // May 19,2010 at 17:00 - I cannot identify myself due to the sensitive nature of my MOS; however, you are short sighted and arrogant. Members of my team know that seeking help is not as easy as you make it sound, so our docs push us to use all our resources. You sound like some backfield pog who never left Bahrain.


Posted // December 9,2008 at 01:36 Jason was a good kid. He grew up as part of our family. He went camping and hunting with us. We will miss him very much. Please listen to the warning signs and extend your arms. maybe someday we will understand.


Posted // December 8,2008 at 04:49 Dont think this is a story of Iraq as much as I hate the war this is an oxycodone death with a wife also addicted who provided the meds. Terrible things happen in life. But those of us who treat addiction know the sun coming up is can be reason enough. Sad story.


Posted // December 6,2008 at 11:42 These are OUR people, it does not matter if you agree with them or not. It does not matter if you supported the war or not, the war is still going on. The war was started by leaders the masses ’elected’ and now we are stuck with the cold hard reality of war. It is not some glorious grand parade where people fall at our feet and our American patriotism protect as if some magic shield. We are not fighting some vile ’evil’ for some great ’good’. We are in a war with people that feel just as strongly as we do that they fighting some horrible force for some great cause.nnThe military is just another business and that often means that the soldiers are forgotten. We are all so busy celebrating the war or protesting it that we forget there are REAL people out there. People are suffering on both sides. No one knows what is right or wrong they are just doing what they are told. They are broken down and rebuilt into the war machine. These people were not aware of what they got into, just like war world II, but we still expect them to go about their lives as if they spent a summer in Europe.nnWe forget that their benefits (such as healthcare) have been restricted over the last few years. They are filed through boot camp, sent off to war, and then kicked out into society a month after they get back. It is no wonder why they have such a hard time. We as a nation have failed them in so many ways.