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NEWS | Sept. 26, 2013

Suicide victim's mother calls for improved mental health education

By Robert Goetz Joint Base San Antonio-Randolph Public Affairs

The mother of an Army sergeant who died by suicide two years ago - a victim of mental anguish caused by a traumatic brain injury suffered in combat in Iraq - brought her daughter's story to Joint Base San Antonio-Randolph last week.

Margy Agar, the mother of Sgt. Kimberly Agar, a 25-year-old Soldier who died Oct. 3, 2011, emphasized the need for better assessment of battleground injuries and called for improved education and communication regarding mental health issues during a symposium Sept. 19 at the JBSA-Randolph Chapel Annex, one of the events of Suicide Awareness and Prevention Month.

"I'm here for two reasons - one, to honor her because it is well-deserved, and two, by becoming her voice - the voice over the stigma of suicide and all that goes with it," she said.

Agar, who said she hopes to instigate change "to open up minds to education, because that is the only thing that will lead this epidemic into a new direction," told the story of a young woman, a former beauty queen, with a vocal talent and her numerous renditions of the national anthem that were heard from her home in the Dallas-Fort Worth area to Fort Leonard Wood, Mo., and Fort Benning, Ga., and from Iraq to Germany.

Agar spoke of Kim's attributes and her patriotism - her dream to serve her country. However, she was also "conflicted with the demons of war," her life altered in 2007 when an improvised explosive device detonated at the driver's door of the convoy truck she was driving. Kim suffered a traumatic brain injury, but it was not diagnosed for four years, long after its effects had begun to take their toll on her and just months before her death.

In addition to the headaches, nausea, memory loss, insomnia and depression that resulted from her injury, Kim suffered from tinnitus, which impacted her "dream job" as a vocalist in the U.S. Army Band and Chorus in Europe based in Germany.

Agar said Kim's tinnitus "sometimes caused her not to be able to hear the music and occasionally she would sing off-key.

"Another extenuating circumstance based on all the prior happenings was that she not only had tinnitus, but she was disrespected and bullied for it," she said.

Despite the relentless bullying, Kim did not report any of her symptoms in "tremendous fear of losing her job," Agar said.

"In retrospect, she didn't seek help for these injuries caused by the IED until she received her diagnosis of a traumatic brain injury in May 2011, four years after the IED," she said.

Agar said Kim spent 11 of her final days in the hospital receiving treatment for her mental condition before being released to return to her barracks, where she requested a room on an isolated floor with no roommate.

Despite a doctor's orders to keep her on suicide watch, a social worker took her off it, Agar said, when she failed to show up for work after a four-day weekend, Kim was found in her room.

Agar, who said some of her family members are "disgruntled" because she is "telling the world" that her daughter died of suicide, said mental illness "needs to be addressed because it can be treated."

"It does not have to be fatal," she said.

The symposium also featured comments by Chaplain (Capt.) Mark McGregor, from JBSA-Randolph's Chapel office, who addressed ways to find healing in the aftermath of suicide.

"With spirituality and suicide, one of the things is to be able to find a way of healing, and one of the most important ways is to keep that story alive," he said.

McGregor said the person who is gone "can still be present in a life-giving way."