BY GLENN PUIT
BEULAH — Eric Lewis Harm survived combat in Afghanistan, but he couldn’t survive coming home.
The decorated Army combat veteran was found dead Dec. 28, an apparent suicide in Manistee County, four months after he left the military. Harm, 24, was a 2007 graduate of Benzie Central schools and grew up in Almira Township.
His family said combat trauma played a role in his decision to take his own life.
“He was just always a happy guy, always looking to help other people and do good,” said his aunt, Dwin Dykema. “He couldn’t deal with the things that he saw over there.”
A Manistee County sheriff’s sergeant declined comment on the cause of death, citing an open investigation.
The tragedy has Dykema and Harm’s parents wanting to help other veterans deal with the stress of life after combat. Dykema also started an online fundraising campaign to help pay for Harm’s funeral.
“There needs to be more awareness,” Dykema said. “These guys don’t come home with a care package. We are going to move forward and see if we can start a (veterans’ assistance) initiative.”
U.S. Army spokesman Mark Edwards said Harm was a motor transport operator on active duty from May 2009 to September 2012. His initial training was at Fort Leonard Wood in Missouri and his duty station was at Fort Knox, Ky. Harm deployed to Afghanistan from January 2011 to January 2012.
Harm received medals for Army Commendation, Achievement, Good Conduct, and national Defense Service. He was also a recipient of the Afghanistan Campaign Medal with two campaign stars and a Combat Action Badge.
Dykema spoke to Harm at a coming home party in August and asked her nephew how he was doing. She had to push to learn Harm was struggling.
“He said, ‘I’m doing good,’ and I said ‘No, how are you doing in your head?’” Dykema recalled. “He said, ‘Well, there are demons in there. They are fierce and they are wicked.’ He really didn’t want to talk about it.”
Concerned family members sought help. Harm was taking medications at the time of his death, including Seroquel, which is used to treat schizophrenia, bipolar disorder and major depressive disorder. MSNBC reports the drug is commonly prescribed to soldiers suffering from Post Traumatic Stress Disorder.
“He kind of holed up in the last few weeks, blacked out his windows,” Dykema said. “His mom thought he was drinking.”
Dykema said Harm told his mother, “He was going to go check in on Friday to a rehab kind of a facility.”
The problem of veterans taking their lives after combat is not a new tragedy to northern Michigan. U.S. Army Sgt. Joseph H. Baker II, 32, bottled up his emotions and ultimately took his own life in January 2011 in Antrim County. Family members said Baker suffered from terrifying nightmares and other symptoms of Post Traumatic Stress Disorder.
Defense Secretary Leon Panetta recently called suicides in the military an “epidemic.” The New York Times reported that suicide is now the leading cause of death in the Army, and that suicide rates of military personnel and combat veterans rose sharply since 2005.
A fundraising campaign to pay for Harm’s funeral expenses can be found at www.gofundme.com/1rba30 and can also be accessed through the social media website Facebook. An obituary provided by Bennett-Barz Funeral Home said Harm was “a talented artist and was known for being a very kind, loving man who always put others before himself.”