Hidden war zone scars claim another soldier's life

Published: Tuesday, June 5 2012 6:00 a.m. MDT

Dale seemed to be doing well, but Keith and Robert say he was conflicted by his experiences. I remember during a visit to my home. he opened his laptop and showed me gruesome and violent photos and videos he had brought home from the Middle East. The video showed ambushes recorded by cameras mounted on the dashboard of bulletproof SUVs as security teams made their way through Baghdad and other hostile urban areas. He showed me photos of men lying dead in the street with the tops of their heads shot off and bodies that had been picked clean by packs of dogs. McIntosh, when asked the obvious question, said he had killed people, but didn't elaborate. He had also seen friends die.

Tony Sr., McIntosh's father and a Vietnam vet, worried about his son's trips abroad and seemed to foresee trouble. "The things people see in a combat zone … sometimes it's hard to get over it," Tony told me in 2006, a year before he died of cancer. "Sometimes they never get over it. A lot of these homeless people are vets. They just couldn't handle it mentally."

Robert says that Dale "implied in a sad way that he had to kill many, many people. I suspected this, but never really knew. He told me he had to do some terrible things. … He struggled with combat-related guilt and couldn't reconcile that with his current civilian life."

Says Keith: "He had a hard time adjusting to this life. He'd come back here and most of the kids he was going to church or school with – well, he had gone through things they hadn't experienced. Over there he had to kill people to stay alive and they're trying to kill him. Back here he'd meet people whose biggest problem is someone didn't call them on Saturday."

Developments at home only added to Dale's sadness. Counting a sister-in-law, four of eight family members died of cancer. This, say family members, affected Dale profoundly. Dale's death makes it five who have died. "I have a family photo of the eight of us, and now there are only three left," says Keith. "It's tough to look at it."

Robert says Dale had been suicidal for some time, the result of depression, PTSD and anxiety, and he took medication for all of them. He was hopeful for his brother when he returned from another overseas mission. "I read one of his journal entries in which he writes about his testimony and faith in God, and that he didn't know if this is good but 'I like what I do but it conflicts with my beliefs. I think this is my last mission, and I'm going to do something that doesn't clash with what I believe.' He came back full of energy."

Needing only a foreign language to complete his MBA in international business, Dale was invited to live with Robert and his family in Harlingen to study Spanish and live rent-free. "He was studying and living with me, my wife and my two daughters," says Robert. "They all fell in love with him. It was the happiest I had seen him."

In the spring, Dale decided to go to Guatemala and later Dominican Republic to immerse himself in Spanish. In the fall he ran out of medications for his depression and none of the local doctors would fill his prescription. In November, one of Dale's former military associates who was working in Dominican Republic called Robert to tell him that Dale had attempted suicide. "He had cut both radial arteries," says Robert, who flew to Dominican Republic and brought his brother back to Texas.

"I told Dale, 'I'm going to help you but you've got to do everything I say,' " says Robert.

Dale was hospitalized at a VA facility in Texas. Robert criticizes the care his brother received there, calling it "cursory and not in depth." He was eventually released to Robert's care and put on an anti-depressant, but for some reason not Adderall, a drug used to treat PTSD that he had taken with good results when he lived in Utah. "There was a disagreement among psychiatrists," says Robert. "One wanted him committed; another didn't."

During the next couple of months, Robert says, Dale was overdosing Adavan, an anxiety medication. Robert describes him as frequently paranoid, angry and disoriented. He says he confronted Dale and told him: "You're in trouble; this is going to end badly. I can't help you by myself anymore." He urged Dale to enter a volunteer treatment program in Waco, Texas, for soldiers with PTSD and offered to pay for it. According to Robert, Dale was convinced he was trying to lock him away.

Robert says Dale's behavior became so erratic that it upset his family, so he convinced him to move to another house with the promise that he would visit him frequently.

"He was there four or five days," recalls Robert. "I'd go there and spend all day with him. That Saturday morning I saw him, and he was upset. I told him he needed more help. I had not taken his guns. He kept them in a closet. I told him that this was getting bad and that he needed help. I got him groceries; he said he'd take a nap. A few hours later he took his own life. I went back to see him and found him. It's been the most excruciating pain I've ever felt."

Robert has spent months ruminating on the final weeks of his brother's life. He believes that despite all the programs offered by the VA, veterans fall through the cracks because there is not a protocol to follow.

"Suicide has a stigma," he says, "but it's the end of a disease process, like cancer. It happens to a lot of soldiers. Young guys go over there and do things they were taught were wrong their whole lives and then they come back and it's very difficult. We are a civilian society; most people haven't done this, so there is no understanding of what they've been through, no support network. It's like these cute little pit bulls they put in a ring to fight and maim and then they expect them to interact with kids. It doesn't work."

In the end, there is something Dale said that has stuck with his brother Robert. "He told me, 'I don't want to die; I just want the pain to stop.' "

Email: drob@desnews.com

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