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2004-07-27

Exclusive: Parents Mourn Son’s Suicide After Returning From Fighting in Iraq

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We speak with the parents of Jeffrey Lucey who killed himself shortly after returning home from military duty in Iraq after suffering post traumatic stress syndrome. We also speak with the co-founder of Military Families Speak Out and with a former U.S. soldier who spent 10 months in Iraq and is now a member of the newly formed group Iraq Veterans Against the War. [includes rush transcript]

At the opening of the convention on Monday night, several of the men who served with John Kerry in Vietnam were at the FleetCenter to support the Democratic candidate. Inside the hall, there are a large number of vets and on Monday, the convention witnessed the first ever Veterans caucus at a Democratic convention. Meanwhile Vets for Peace held a major conference this weekend here in Boston. A number of vets who participated in the invasion and occupation of Iraq spoke out, alongside vets from Vietnam and other wars.

On Democracy Now! we have consistently given the microphone to former soldiers and their families, who are speaking out against the occupation of Iraq. Today, we are going to do that again.

  • Kevin Lucey, son Jeffrey served in Iraq.
  • Joyce Lucey, son, Jeffrey, served in Iraq
  • Nancy Lessin, co-founder of Military Families Speak Out
  • Kelly Dougherty, spent 10 months in Iraq with the 220th Military Police Company and is a member of the newly formed group Iraq Veterans Against the War.

Transcript

This is a rush transcript. Copy may not be in its final form.

AMY GOODMAN: Kevin and Joyce Lucey join us today. Welcome to Democracy Now!

JOYCE LUCEY: Thank you.

KEVIN LUCEY: Thank you.

AMY GOODMAN: It is, first I want to offer my condolences and the whole team, the whole staff here at Democracy Now! we are very moved by the fact that you were willing to come in to talk about Jeff. Can you tell us when he went to Iraq? Why don’t we begin with Kevin.

KEVIN LUCEY: He went to—he was deployed over to Camp Pendleton in late January of 2003 and he was shipped out to Iraq, I believe it was mid February of 2003.

AMY GOODMAN: Why did he go into the military?

KEVIN LUCEY: He signed up for the Marine Reserves because he wanted the training and he wanted to go to college.

AMY GOODMAN: How did you feel about that?

KEVIN LUCEY: Both of us, I think, were in a state of shock and we would have loved to have taken him over our knee, but he was too —-— he had to make his own decision.

AMY GOODMAN: How old was he?

JOYCE LUCEY: At the time? He was 18.

AMY GOODMAN: 18 years old. Did he tell you about this decision when he was still in high school?

JOYCE LUCEY: No. He might have mentioned it a couple of times, but I would never have taken him seriously at the time. But,—

AMY GOODMAN: Where did you live? Where did Jeff grow up?

JOYCE LUCEY: Belcher Town.

AMY GOODMAN: Here in Massachusetts.

JOYCE LUCEY: Western Mass.

AMY GOODMAN: So he went off to Iraq. And he served there how long?

KEVIN LUCEY: Well, he was there for the war. He celebrated his 22nd birthday over in Iraq. In fact, the war started the day after his 22nd birthday. And then he returned back to this country July 14 of 2003. So he was there for six months. Five or six months.

AMY GOODMAN: And the Jeff who came home. What was he like?

JOYCE LUCEY: When he first came home, he was happy to be home. He had a couple of weddings to attend. But his girlfriend, they went away to the Cape right after they came back, and she said he was vague—he was distant. You know. You really wouldn’t notice it unless you knew Jeffrey. His unit never saw anything coming. They thought he was smiling all the time, he was cooperative. Never, never saw the pain that was underneath.

KEVIN LUCEY: And then there was Christmas Eve that we really became aware of the problem, when he was drunk and he told his younger sister that he was a murderer. And his behavior broke. He usually would be at family events but he refused to come with us Christmas Eve down to his grandparents and our daughter went to check on him, and we went rushing back home Christmas Eve and we knew that something was going on. We didn’t understand.

AMY GOODMAN: He was in the battle of Nazariah?

JOYCE LUCEY: Yes. He went in with Special Ops. He was with the, with the ones that need self truckers to drive them in and Jeff went in with them. And then he went into the city itself. And he was in the alleyways. He said they were firing from the top of buildings down at them and he thought he was going to die there. He really—and he said we would never understand. And we don’t. I can’t put myself in the position he was in.

AMY GOODMAN: We are talking to Joyce and Kevin Lucey. We are going to break and come back to this conversation. We will also be joined by Nancy Lessin, of Military Families Speak Out and we will hear about another soldier who, after falling apart, witnessing death, has been put in the brig incommunicado. His family is very concerned about him. We will speak with a woman who has come home, one of the founders of Iraq Veterans Against the War. This is Democracy Now! Back in a minute.

AMY GOODMAN: This is Democracy Now! Breaking with Convention: War, Peace and the Presidency. I’m Amy Goodman. As we broadcast from the Democratic National Convention, we are actually in the unconventional city of Cambridge just across the river broadcasting from Cambridge Community Television. As we look at what’s happening in the world outside the Fleet Center, though deeply affected by what is being said inside the convention halls. We are joined by the family of a young man who returned home after being in the battle of Nazariah, a U.S. soldier, and who after returning home, committed suicide. We are joined by Kevin Lucey and Joyce Lucey, also Nancy Lessin of Military Families Speak Out and Kelly Dougherty who also was a U.S. servicewoman in Iraq returned home and this weekend in the pre-events to the Democratic Convention, big convention of Veterans for Peace, joined with others in founding a new organization called Iraq Veterans Against the War. But back to Kevin and Joyce Lucey who are speaking out for the first time. Was your son political when he went to Iraq?

JOYCE LUCEY: No. No.

KEVIN LUCEY: No, he—he basically was just a young man, a teenager trying to enjoy life and trying to get work and education.

AMY GOODMAN: When he came back?

KEVIN LUCEY: As time went on, he really started watching various news programs and he started speaking up against the war and why it was being fought, why innocents were being killed. He just couldn’t—he couldn’t merge his life with what he had seen and what he had gone through. And he started telling us, as time went on, a lot more of what he saw, what he saw Americans do. And—just—he just had some really heavy trauma.

AMY GOODMAN: So when he came back, what kind of help did he get? What date did he return home?

JOYCE LUCEY: July 13 or 14.

AMY GOODMAN: What help did he get in the summer? This was last—

JOYCE LUCEY: He didn’t seek any help at that time.

AMY GOODMAN: And you realized something was wrong already at Christmas?

JOYCE LUCEY: Around Christmas.

AMY GOODMAN: Six months later.

JOYCE LUCEY: Around Christmas eve.

AMY GOODMAN: Then what happened?

JOYCE LUCEY: Yep, he would have a good day and a bad day. It was nothing—we didn’t even understand that he was going through something. He went back to school, he seemed to focus again on his work. In fact, he had his midterms in March and he did very well. It was around April he started feeling anxious, felt like there were people watching him, like when he would walk into a class classroom. He felt all eyes were on him. Even though he said he knows they aren’t. I never felt like this before. If somebody would slam a door, he would drop his school books down and he said he would turn real quick and was embarrassed. It was a startle reflex. He didn’t quite understand what was going on. He was having trouble sleeping, he was having night sweats. The nightmares were starting to occur. He was agitated, restless.

AMY GOODMAN: Did the military veteran’s hospital say this is what could happen?

KEVIN LUCEY: Well, we had not hooked up with a V.A. yet. What had happened was that during a family day that people were told you should try to get your vet some help. And one of the things was that Jeff didn’t want help. Because he thought he could manage everything on his own. And then when we got into May, well even late April, both of us started encouraging him to go to his open private therapist. He was tremendously worried about the military finding out that he was, quote, 'weak.' We did it privately. We hooked him up with a therapist over in Amherst and he immediately trusted Mark because he knew Mark from earlier and what had happened was we thought things were working out. Mark was giving him phone consultation and seeing him once or twice a week. But then when May came, things really started exploding. He started talking about how we could never understand and he would average maybe three or four or five hours’ worth of sleep.

JOYCE LUCEY: He wasn’t eating.

KEVIN LUCEY: He wasn’t eating.

JOYCE LUCEY: And when he returned, he was almost phoning on a daily basis when he first came home and it kind of continued. He went to see the internist at the time and he really, he didn’t find anything wrong with Jeff at that point.

AMY GOODMAN: Did you ever seek V.A. help?

JOYCE LUCEY: Yes.

KEVIN LUCEY: We did go out to the V.A. We were trying to get him to do it voluntarily. So about three weeks in May, we kept encouraging him and he said, "OK, tomorrow, I’ll go. Tomorrow I’ll go." Well, finally on May 28, Memorial Day weekend, I came home and I said, "Jeff, today is the day." And he, his girlfriend and myself, brought him up to the V.A. hospital. We left at 3:00 on May 28, Friday. We got there at 4:00 and they tried to talk him into a voluntary. Jeff was medicating himself with the alcohol. No, he had not drank anything from 3:00 on and about 7:00 or 7:30 when they took a breathalyzer and he blew a .238. He was functioning very well except very angry. Finally, I had to ask them to involuntarily commit him. And that resulted in his being chased by the V.A. police and male nurses tackled, restrained, and he was committed against his will until June 1, Tuesday. And then they discharged him. One of the things about that that upsets me is that on Saturday, I called and a nurse went down and asked them, Jeff, because of Hippocratic Oath, I can’t speak to your dad. And he said, "No, it’s ok. Talk to him." So she came back and told us how he had the night before, but during his stay, he had mentioned, we got the medical records afterwards, he had mentioned three ways that he was thinking about committing suicide. Overdose, suffocation or hanging. And at his discharge meeting, which we thought possibly someone would contact us, Jeff called his mom and said I’ve been discharged. Come and get me. So we were never told that he had these kinds of really construct plans. And—

AMY GOODMAN: What date did he die?

KEVIN LUCEY: He died June 22, 2004. Yeah. He died Tuesday, five weeks ago today.

AMY GOODMAN: At home?

KEVIN LUCEY: Yes. He—I came home at 6:45 and I went to look for Jeff and I couldn’t find him in the house. His Iraqi dog tags were on his bed: two men that he was ordered to shoot unarmed. And when I saw those, it didn’t strike me right away, but as I walked back, I saw the cellar door open, cellar light on, family pictures put in a crescent. I went downstairs looking at the pictures and all of a sudden from the corner of my eye, I saw my son Jeff hanging there from a hold. And I immediately went over and cradled him on my knee, took the hose from his neck and made a pillow out of a thing and rested him down and called the police. And that was that.

AMY GOODMAN: You said he put dog tags on his bed of Iraqis?

JOYCE LUCEY: He wore them on—he had them in Iraq and when he came home, he started wearing them. And the psychologist that was dealing with Jeff said Jeff wore them to honor these men, not as a trophy, but to honor them because he took their lives.

AMY GOODMAN: What do you mean he was ordered to shoot them and they were unarmed?

JOYCE LUCEY: They were prisoners.

AMY GOODMAN: They were prisoners?

JOYCE LUCEY: Yeah.

AMY GOODMAN: Where did he kill them? In Nazariah?

KEVIN LUCEY: We don’t know.

JOYCE LUCEY: We don’t have the whole story. He would just give bits and pieces. You would never get the full. But he told his sister that he was just like five feet away from one of them. That he had to kill. And he watched him die. And—

JOYCE LUCEY: He never wanted to shoot.

KEVIN LUCEY: He never shot a squirrel before. In his life.

AMY GOODMAN: He’s the middle son? You have a daughter are older and younger?

JOYCE LUCEY: Yes.

AMY GOODMAN: How are they dealing?

JOYCE LUCEY: Difficult. Very difficult. We just had my husband’s birthday and we went out so that we wouldn’t be at home, because it’s too many memories at home. And just going into a place to eat, my older daughter are kept tearing up because Jeff’s not there any more. So, you know, it’s going to be hard for a while.

AMY GOODMAN: Joyce and Kevin Lucey are you paying attention to the Democratic convention?

JOYCE LUCEY: Yes.

AMY GOODMAN: You are?

JOYCE LUCEY: Yes. Definitely.

AMY GOODMAN: Do you think Jeff would have watched?

JOYCE LUCEY: I think he was more apt to now than when he was younger. He definitely knew who he was going to vote for in November.

AMY GOODMAN: Who?

JOYCE LUCEY: Kerry.

AMY GOODMAN: Nancy Lessin, as you listen to the Lucey’s, Military Families Speak Out, your organization, you are dealing with many people who have lost loved ones. And you are dealing also with another story right now of a young man who like Jeff was horrified at what he saw. Please tell us the story.

NANCY LESSIN: You know, Amy, we are not hearing nearly enough about those who die in the battle field. We are hearing virtually nothing about the growing number of troops who died in their souls because of what they saw and what they did. And we hear these every day. But this one in particular is one that we heard last week. A mom wrote us. Her son served in Iraq. He came back. Was suffering nightmares and night sweats. Got redeployment orders and he told his mother he could not go back and kill innocent people. She encouraged him to talk with his command, with his chaplain. He did that. They told him to suck it up, get back to his unit, and do his damn job. Instead of going on deployment, he went AWOL for several months and then he turned himself in. Back into his command he was put in the brig where he sits now in Camp Pendleton. He’s being held without charges and incommunicado from his family.

AMY GOODMAN: His parents can’t talk with him?

NANCY LESSIN: No. They have not been able to. We are trying to get legal intervention here, but clearly this is just yet another story that illustrates a trend that it’s really military policy that is limiting and preventing proper evaluation, diagnosis and treatment of PTSD. We have heard —

AMY GOODMAN: Post-traumatic stress disorder.

NANCY LESSIN: How much the post traumatic stress disorder. We have heard so much about what this military learned in Vietnam and how they are doing it differently now. And we don’t see that at all. We see the same mistakes happening, mistakes that are, in fact, not mistakes at all. It’s really a way of denying this issue so that they can keep as many warm bodies on the front, deployed and redeployed. And that’s the policy.

AMY GOODMAN: Kelly Dougherty, you served in Iraq for about a year?

KELLY DOUGHERTY: Yes. With the Colorado National Guard. AMY GOODMAN: You were in Nazariah like Jeff.

KELLY DOUGHERTY: Yes.

AMY GOODMAN: But did you know him?

KELLY DOUGHERTY: No. When our unit went, it was after the majority of the fighting had stopped. So,—

AMY GOODMAN: Were you opposed to the invasion?

KELLY DOUGHERTY: I was opposed to the invasion and the more I have learned and what I saw, it’s just reinforced what I felt.

AMY GOODMAN: Why did you join the Colorado National Guard?

KELLY DOUGHERTY: I joined out of high school to get money for college and also to get some medical training. I served as a medic and then I went to Iraq as a military police officer.

AMY GOODMAN: So you’ve come home, I met you at the Boston Public Library at the closing of the Veterans for Peace Conference. And learned that a small group of you, veterans from Iraq, have formed this organization Iraq Veterans Against the War. Why?

KELLY DOUGHERTY: We formed it just to give returning Iraqi veterans who are disillusioned and angry with the government and with this war in Iraq a way to come together and organize a voice because we think it’s powerful to have returning veterans, especially who have seen what it is like over there, speak against it, and we are working with Nancy and Military Families Speak Out and with Veterans for Peace to organize, and we have members of our group who dealt with similar situations like she was talking about and what their son went through with depression and PTSD and getting no help from the government and from the military. And we have people there that have experienced it.

AMY GOODMAN: If people want to get in touch with Iraq Veterans Against the War, where can they go? We only have a few seconds left. But what do you plan to do with this group?

KELLY DOUGHERTY: Yes, we are at www.ivaw.net. And we plan to get together and speak out, try to make our voices heard. We have several members, our membership has already tripled since we announced this three days ago.

AMY GOODMAN: Kevin Lucey, do you think that this would have helped your son?

KEVIN LUCEY: I believe it would have helped him and would have given him a lifeline.

AMY GOODMAN: I want to thank you all very much for being with us and we hope to be in touch with you as you go through your recovery and your mourning and to find out how Iraq Veterans Against the War and Military Families Speak Out are doing and how you are organizing in this election year. That does it for today’s program. We have so many people to thank, so little time.

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