Family Blames PTSD For Local Iraq War Veteran’s Suicide
Posted: February 2, 2013
Felicia Banks and her son, Malcolm, show off a high school photo of Trevor Banks, an Iraq war veteran who committed suicide on Jan. 22. Trevor, Felicia’s son and Malcolm’s brother, had been struggling with post-traumatic stress disorder stemming from his combat experiences. “He’ll never be forgotten,” Malcolm Banks says. (Photo by Nikki Fox)
In 2007, Banks was deployed to Iraq for combat. While he escaped the gunfire and bombings during the nine months he was at war, his family says it took a heavy toll on the young man.
On Jan. 22, the 26-year-old Harrisonburg man shot and killed himself in Blakey’s Barber Shop on Community Street, where he worked as a barber.
His family places the blame for Banks’ suicide on post-traumatic stress disorder, which they say he had been living with since his return from the Middle East.
“The battles we fight on the battlefield sometimes come home with us,” said his uncle, Carlton Banks, who also served in the military.
Answering The Call
Banks graduated in 2004 from Harrisonburg High School, where he was a member of the ROTC program.
After joining the National Guard, he spent six years as a member of the 116th Infantry, Alpha Company, 3rd Battalion.
“When his country called, he stood strong,” Carlton Banks said.
Malcolm Banks, 23, said he wasn’t surprised when his brother signed up to serve.
He said Trevor always gave to others.
“All of my memories I have of my brother are either him giving me advice or giving me something,” he said. “He was always thinking of other people and not himself.”
But when Trevor Banks returned from service, his friends and family noticed a change. While he still had that glowing smile everyone had come to love, his family said, they could tell there was something wrong deep down.
His family eventually concluded he was suffering from PTSD.
One big sign, they say, was his inability and unwillingness to talk about what happened in Iraq.
“There were things in his head he could never forget,” said Malcolm Banks. “What, I don’t know. He couldn’t speak about it.”
His family also said he was not eating and sleeping properly, withdrew from friends and family and struggled with alcohol — something he never had a problem with before.
Despite his problems, they say, he tried to act normal.
“He could still put a smile on,” said Malcolm Banks.
A Growing Trend?
PTSD, which at one time or another had been referred to as shell shock or combat fatigue among soldiers, is described by the National Institute for Mental Health as an anxiety disorder that some people get after seeing or living through a dangerous event. People who have the disorder may feel stressed or frightened even when they’re no longer in danger.
In 2008, the Rand Corp., a nonprofit research institution, conducted what is considered the latest study about PTSD among troops returning from Operation Enduring Freedom in Afghanistan and Operation Iraqi Freedom in Iraq.
Of 1,938 study participants, 13.8 percent were found to be suffering from the disorder.
Nicole Curtis, a counselor with Rockingham Memorial Hospital Behavioral Health, said she has dealt with veterans suffering from PTSD.
“It’s certainly becoming more of an issue for those returning [from battle],” Curtis said.
While combat can trigger PTSD, she said, it’s a disorder that can strike anyone who has gone through a traumatic event, such as being a victim of abuse or a witness to a violent crime.
“They often have extreme fear because they relive that event,” Curtis said. “It could be images or thoughts.”
Common symptoms include a change in eating and sleeping habits, withdrawal from friends and family, a fear of being in crowded areas, increased anger and suicidal thoughts.
Valley veterans can seek help at the Martinsburg Veterans Affairs Medical Center in Martinsburg, W.Va., which serves southeastern Pennsylvania, Virginia, Maryland, and West Virginia. Veterans and nonveterans can seek help at RMH Behavioral Health.
Curtis said RMH has a partial hospitalization program, where patients can get treatment during the day and go home at nights. One of the techniques they use to treat PTSD is talk therapy.
“Talking about it can help,” she said.
She said they also teach the patients coping and relaxation skills.
Treating PTSD can be tricky, she said. Often, patients have a second issue, such as depression or alcoholism, which has formed alongside the disorder.
The first step to treatment, she said, is to seek mental health counseling. She said it’s not easy for some, but necessary.
“You’re talking about your deepest, darkest feelings,” she said.
Trevor Banks was in and out of counseling, his family said, but they said it wasn’t enough. They say the military needs to do more for veterans returning from war.
“We want to help someone else,” said Carlton Banks. “We as Americans need to stand behind these men and women.”
Despite whatever stigma his suicide might involve, his family said he was a great guy who was struggling with images and thoughts that they still don’t fully understand themselves. Many people loved him, they say.
“He had $17 to his name but he had 500 people at his funeral,” said Malcolm Banks, adding that about 50 of them were fellow soldiers. “He’ll never be forgotten. He’s at peace now. His mind is gone but his soul is still with me.”
Where To Get Help
Veterans can call the Veterans Affairs Outpatient Clinic in Harrisonburg at 442-1773.
Veterans, and non-veterans, can also call RMH Behavioral Health at 564-5960 to make an appointment with a counselor.
They can also contact RMH’s emergency room at 689-1000 to talk to a member of the psychiatric emergency team 24 hours a day.
Contact Pete DeLea at 574-6278 or email@example.com