The Air Force is investigating whether Col. Eugene Caughey, 46, formerly the vice commander of the 50th Space Wing at Schriever Air Force Base, died in the line of duty. Caughery shot himself three weeks before his court-martial on rape, sexual assault and adultery charges was scheduled to start in October.
The Army is investigating the same thing in the suicide of Master Sgt. Timothy Shelton. Shelton, 46, was convicted of sexual abuse of a child at Ft. Campbell, Kentucky on July 15, 2015. He shot himself with a gun retrived from his parked truck after a lunch break before he was to be sentenced.
The two cases go to the heart of a debate about the investigations that determine whether military suicides were of “unsound mind” when they killed themselves, and so in the line of duty, or of “sound mind.”
Those of sound mind who kill themselves commit misconduct, regulations state, and their families are denied retirement and other benefits, which for families of long-serving troops can amount to hundreds of thousands of dollars.
Psychiatrists, family groups and a recent RAND corporation study in improving the military’s post-suicide response say that no families of suicides should be made to forefeit benefits. They say that family members have also made sacrifices for the military, and that denying benefits adds another blow to their trauma.