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August 1, 2010

Suicide rate among military members on the rise

From the outside, Johny Sanchez seemed to have a happy life, with the love and support of a large, close-knit family and many friends.

But then, two months ago, his mother Zoila Frias-Ramos received a frantic call in the middle of the night from Sanchez's wife with the tragic news that he had taken his own life.

"I can't understand and won't understand why he did that," Frias-Ramos said.

Sanchez, 33, a specialist in the Army during the Iraq War, is one of two members of the military with local ties who recently took their own lives. Their suicides reflect a growing national trend that the armed services are still struggling to comprehend.

In addition to Sanchez, Christopher John Twomey, known as "C.J.," passed away April 15. He lived in Keene, but his grandparents are from Haverhill.

Twomey, a 1st Class Airman with the Air Force, was honorably discharged after sustaining a leg injury while deployed. In April, he was told his injury would be a liability and was barred from rejoining his unit overseas and offered other options to serve. His family said he committed suicide the next day.

According to statistics released by the Army, there were 32 confirmed or suspected suicides among soldiers in June, the worst month on record. The Army counted 160 suicides last year, the highest total ever. The rate was above that of the civilian population for the second year in a row.

"War is devastating, to say the least," said Joseph Cotton, executive director of The Psychological Center in Lawrence. "People see things, hear things, and it even affects people who read about it. Those who are in combat or even if they did not experience war, the stresses in our world today are overwhelming. They are in deep depression and see no hope."

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