Tuesday, November 30, 2010

Daniel E. Duefield

Remember Our Heroes

Family members are mourning the loss of a 24-year-old veteran of the Iraq war who came home two years ago a changed man suffering the after-effects of a traumatic war experience.

Daniel E. Duefield, who served two tours in Iraq before being honorably discharged following injuries he sustained in an explosion, was found dead at his home in Grafton on Wednesday, his mother, Ruth Duefield, said Friday.

"I really am heartbroken," she said.

An autopsy is being performed to determine the cause of death, said his uncle, Frederick Duefield. Ruth said Daniel suffered a seizure at about 3 a.m. Wednesday. She said he'd had several seizures in recent months from complications due to the lingering effects of a traumatic brain injury suffered in the explosion.

Ruth and Frederick said the family has not ruled out suicide, as Daniel was suffering from the effects of posttraumatic stress disorder, or PTSD, and may have taken as many as 70 methadone pills in a two-day period.

"He died at his battlefield here at home, in his head," Frederick said. "He didn't die on the battlefield in Iraq. If it wasn't suicide, then it's going to come back that he died from a seizure from his injuries."

Daniel's death was the end of a "nightmare" six-day stretch that began Nov. 12, 2010 when Daniel became irate, got a hold of a gun and made threats to kill himself and others, prompting a response from state police, Ruth said. "The only thing that may have saved us was the fact that he didn't have any bullets," she said. "It was a nightmare in hell."

Frederick said he took Daniel to the Department of Veterans Affairs hospital in White River Junction, Vt., that night, where he was admitted against his will. But he was released the next day and on Monday was able to get a prescription for methadone refilled, Ruth said, despite her reports to the VA that he was abusing the drug, which is often used to treat chronic pain. Meanwhile, no counselor tried to contact Daniel after last weekend's incident, she said.

"Why they ever gave him methadone I'll never know," she said. "I feel the VA is partially responsible for his death. I'm just saying the truth as I see it. I just feel that the VA should have followed up a lot more."

He was dead two days later. Of the 80 pills in the bottle on Monday, just 10 were found on Wednesday, Ruth said. She performed cardiopulmonary resuscitation, even though she knew it was too late.

"Why was he released from the hospital?" Frederick asked. "He shouldn't have died. He shouldn't have been released from the hospital."

A message left with the VA hospital Friday evening wasn't returned. On its website, the VA says it offers many avenues for veterans with PTSD or depression to seek help, including a 24-hour suicide prevention hotline that connects veterans to a trained professional.

Frederick and Ruth said Daniel also didn't follow through with the counseling he was offered. Ruth said he went to only one counseling session in six months. "I'm not putting all the blame on the hospital," Frederick said. "I blame a portion of this on (Daniel) for not seeking help."

However, he said, "if the disease of PTSD is what it is, you put yourself in denial," he said. "He came back wounded."

According to the VA, PTSD is an anxiety disorder that can develop after a traumatic event. Symptoms include confusion, anger and depression. The disorder can lead to many problems, including drug addictions and trouble maintaining relationships and employment.

Ruth said Daniel immediately showed signs of PTSD after his discharge from the Army. He enlisted in the Army in 2005 and was stationed with the 10th Mountain Division at Fort Drum, N.Y. He was a gunner on a Humvee while stationed in Iraq, where he fought in the "Triangle of Death" area south of Baghdad, which saw heavy combat against insurgents.

"Before, he was happy-go-lucky. He was always laughing, always smiling," she said. "After the war, he was very much more reserved, very quiet. He started to keep to himself more."

His military vehicle was rocked by an explosion in 2008, resulting in Daniel's injuries and a different person than the one who enlisted in the Army with great enthusiasm, Frederick said.

"He was a great guy. He was loved by his family and friends," he said. "But the war changed him."

"He was a hero," Frederick said. "We were all so proud that he wanted to serve his country and that's how we want him to be remembered, as a hero."

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