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Former Capitola veteran Peter Linnerooth loses battle with PTSD

SANTA CRUZ -- Peter J.N. Linnerooth, a Bronze Star-winning Army psychologist, died earlier this month after a long battle with post traumatic stress disorder. He was 42.

The Army captain who worked as a counselor at the Santa Cruz County Vet Center in Capitola from 2009 to 2011 took his own life on Jan. 2 in Mankato, Minn.

Linnerooth served in the Army from 2003 to 2008, working primarily as a mental health officer helping combat troops deal with the anxiety and depression associated with post traumatic stress disorder, a severe mental illness he also suffered.

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He is credited with helping hundreds of soldiers with mental health illnesses throughout his Army career, but could not find solace himself.

Friends such as Santa Cruz resident Jeremiah Ridgeway, 30, described Linnerooth as a friendly guy, easy to talk to and easy to relate with.

Linnerooth and Ridgeway, an Army veteran who spent 15 months in Afghanistan, worked together at the Santa Cruz County Vet Center on 41st Avenue.

"The young guys coming back from Iraq loved him because he's been there as well," Ridgeway said Saturday. "I could see the impact of what he did for these guys. He's just a great guy."

Family and friends said Linnerooth returned from a year deployment in Iraq a changed man.

The time he spent in Iraq, August 2006 to August 2007, came at what is considered one of the bloodiest points in the ongoing war -- the height of the surge.

According to a recent article on Time magazine's online version time.com, Linnerooth served as the mental-health officer in charge of the 2nd Brigade Combat Team, 1st Infantry Division, in and around Baghdad. The Army awarded him a Bronze Star for exemplary service at the end of the deployment.

The article said he was haunted by the procession of bodies, alive and dead, coming into the Riva Ridge Troop Medical Clinic. Even mental-health workers had to pitch in to help after mass-casualty events.

The recollection of an explosion that ripped into four Iraqis -- two adults and two kids -- especially tormented him, said his wife Melanie Walsh of Sparks, Nev.

Linnerooth spoke in recent years about the need to care for the troops' mental woes, and was often frustrated by how military officials failed to see the toll war placed on soldiers, according to the time.com article.

Linnerooth also warned of the grinding stress that providing such care inflicted on Army mental-health workers such as him. He was the lead author of a 2011 piece on such "professional burnout" among his peers who, like him, had gone off to witness the worst of war.

Linnerooth is survived by his mother, his widow and three children -- a son, 10, and a daughter, 6, from his first marriage, and a 4-month-old son from his second.

A memorial service will be held at 11 a.m. Monday at the National Cemetery in Minneapolis.

Follow Sentinel reporter Shanna McCord on Twitter at Twitter.com/scnewsmom

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