PORTLAND -- The suicide of an active Army soldier last November in Northeast Portland has prompted a military investigation into his death and a call from Oregon’s U.S. Senator Ron Wyden for a full explanation.
“In the tragic case of Sgt. Jason Matus, I have asked the Army for a full briefing on his death and the care he received-or didn’t receive,” said Wyden.
Staff Sergeant Jason Matus killed himself just after midnight November 21, 2011.
According to military records Matus reported for active duty at Fort Bragg, NC in 1997. He served there until 2004 with deployments to Egypt in 2000 and Iraq from April 2003 to January 2004. His family says, in Iraq he served with the 571 Air Calvary as a combat medic. It was during that time, his wife Fay Norris said, that he suffered neck injuries when a chopper he was riding in crash-landed to avoid enemy fire.
“He wanted to save as many people as he could,” said Norris.
Matus grew up in Northern California. Faye and Jason knew each other from the time they were teens in Grass Valley, California. They went their separate ways but met up again after he returned from the war and were married in 2007.
Matus was already struggling with physical pain from his neck injury and symptoms of Post Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD) started to appear more and more often. He eventually had three surgeries to fix his neck beginning in 2009. But at the same time, Faye said, the psychological challenges became so severe, he spent two months in a secure psychiatric facility in Texas.
Not long after he got out, Matus and his wife moved to Oregon, in October 2011. They were closer to his mother, who lives near Salem.
He was now part of the Community Based Wounded Warrior Transition Program. His main mission became getting better, attending both medical and mental health appointments with the VA and other doctors in the Portland area.
Norris said her husband also wanted to return to war.
“When he'd get depressed his thing was always why am I back here? I should go back over there, there's still young men bleeding out there. I need to be there. I need to save people," recalled Norris.
She felt her husband got overlooked the more he struggled with his demons. “Up until this point, Jason had always thought the Army was good to him and if anything happened, they'd take care of him. But once he really got injured they kinda walked away," Norris said.
A registered nurse, Norris felt the burden of his care. “A lot of days all I could handle, just to keep up with, we were going to doctor's appointments two or three times a week, I’m trying to keep his meds straight, I’m working full-time because, you know, I’ve gotta have a job,” she said.
Norris felt the military should have been more attentive. “They never came and checked on him, they never called his duty station and I can’t be always responsible for that. They need to be checking. They need to be hands-on with these guys,” she said.
Sgt. Matus’ best friend Mark Maloy said the two planned to make a movie together. But as the soldier’s PTSD challenges became more severe, he became more depressed. “He never wanted to be broken,” said Maloy. “He never wanted to be difficult. He never wanted to be a problem. And the more opposite he got the more everybody told him he was, the more depressed. And finally, his last words were, I’ll fix this. And that was that,” said Maloy.
Ultimately, Matus gave up hope.
“I'll always feel partially like this is my fault,” Norris said. “…like I should have done something more.” She said she fought for him up to the very end, even trying to wrestle the gun away from her husband.
But he was stronger.
Now, Norris keeps an urn with her husband’s ashes on a shelf in the home she moved into after the suicide.
She hopes in the future, the military will pay more attention to soldiers like her husband who are clearly in need of help.
And she’d like the rest of us to think more about how he lived, than how he died. “He was one of the most beautiful, loving, passionate, and caring people you could ever meet. And he was a wonderful guy,” she said.
The Army recently commented on the death of Sgt. Matus by way of a statement from the Western Regional Medical Command. “Our Army sends its heartfelt condolences to the family and loved ones of Staff Sgt. Jason Matus. It is always very painful whenever we lose one of our own, and we will continue to hold his loved ones in our thoughts and prayers.”
If you or a loved one needs help contact the following agencies:
Oregon Military Assistance Helpline: 1-800-511-6944
Multnomah County Crisis Line 503-988-4888
Joint Transition Assistance web site Helps soldiers and families return to civilian life
Returning Veterans Project: 503-954-2259
Thoughts of suicide?Oregon Partnership 1-800-273-8255