Moral Low Ground

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Every 80 Minutes, A U.S. Military Veteran Dies By Suicide

A U.S. military veteran dies by suicide every 80 minutes.

This shocking statistic comes from a new study published by the Center for a New American Security titled “Losing the Battle: The Challenge of Military Suicide.” The study points to the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan as culprits and posits that the military’s suicide epidemic threatens retention, recruitment and the reputation of our nation’s armed forces. It also warns that the problem will only get worse as increasingly large numbers of troops return home after completing their tours of duty.

“America is losing its battle against suicide by veterans and service members,” Dr. Margaret C. Harrell and Nancy Berglass, who authored the study, wrote. “And as more troops return from deployment, the risk will only grow.”

Factors contributing to the alarmingly high number of suicides include post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD), high unemployment rates and employment discrimination among veterans and the loss of military camaraderie that occurs when troops who spent months or even years together go their separate ways when their service is finished.

Some 12,000 veterans attempt suicide every year. The VA lied about this number, claiming it was “only” about 800, but internal e-mails revealed the truth. In 2010, some 2,000 active duty and reserve troops attempted suicide. Of these, 468 succeeded. That’s more than the number of U.S. troops killed in combat that year, and 2010 was the second straight yearin which suicides outnumbered combat deaths. At Fort Hood in Texas, fourteen soldiers killed themselves in the first nine months of 2010; four of them in just one weekend.

The Veterans Administration (VA) is overwhelmed by the suicide epidemic. In 2007, it established a Veterans Crisis Line that has received over 400,000 calls and saved more than 14,000 lives. But its not enough.

“The DOD does not currently take sufficient responsibility for veteran suicide,” the  study’s authors wrote. “Given the potential implications of veteran suicide for the all volunteer force, the DOD should seek to understand which veterans, and how many veterans, are dying by suicide.”

The study’s authors offer the following suggestions on how to curb military suicides: the establishment of an Army unit cohesion period at the end of service  so soldiers can better deal with unit disbandment, discussion of personally-owned weapons, which account for nearly half of all military suicides and improving the analysis of veteran suicide data.

But these steps alone won’t be enough.

Part of the problem is the lingering stigma that dogs many troops who seek help for mental health problems like PTSD or traumatic brain injuries (TBIs). Lately there’s been a concerted top-down effort in the military to encourage soldiers suffering from these problems to seek the help they so desperately need. But the macho military culture still very much discourages this. Fully 60% of U.S. troops believe their careers would suffer if they sought mental health help, despite the fact that brain injuries are among the most common wounds suffered by War on Terror veterans. This must change.

Alive in body but dead in spirit, all too many of our wounded warriors have lost the will to live. This is a tragedy– and a travesty. We Americans love to display how much we “support our troops.” We’re very good at tying ribbons around trees, waving flags and briefly saluting our troops and veterans on certain designated patriotic holidays and anniversaries. But when the martial music and the fireworks die down, too many of us ignore them. But bumper sticker patriotism won’t save the lives of suicidal vets. We can, and must, do better by them.

 

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6 Comments

  1. Auntie AdjeleyNovember 6, 2011 at 12:38 amReply

    Possibly the problem is that US soldiers like any others expect that they are joining the military as volunteers for a good and noble cause – defending their country from ‘Evil’. It must be a great shock to a lot of decent men to discover that they are expected to attack civilians including women and children and civilian infrastructure like national water supplies, universities and jospitals like the one in Libya for kids with Down’s Syndrome, and also laying siege to whole polulations in order to try to starve them into submission. Maybe if these ethical conflicts weren’t so great it would be easier for such men to escape from the memories that plague them and the inescapable truth that they have only been pawns working for some of the Richest Thugs on Earth.

  2. Nina WallestadNovember 6, 2011 at 6:10 pmReply

    My brother was one of these casualties of war. He served with the Army National Guard in Iraq, and returned with PTSD. He took his own life on August 28, 2011.

    Another issue not dealt with in this article is the lack of mental health services available to vets who live in small, rural communities. The closest VA facility to my brother was a two-hour drive away, forcing him to lose a day of work every week in order to get counseling. Eventually, he had to chose between working the hours he needed to work to support his family and going to his counseling sessions.

    Perhaps the VA should consider creating “satellite” offices in near the small rural communities where so many of our soldiers and guardsmen live.

    • Brett WilkinsNovember 6, 2011 at 7:15 pmReplyAuthor

      Sorry for your loss… and that’s a great idea about satellite VA offices.

    • HollyNovember 11, 2011 at 8:43 amReply

      This article came as a real shock to me. I had heard of PTSD and knew that adjustment was difficult for many… I never realized it was so severe. This article made a real impact on me.

      To Nina: I’m so sorry for your loss. Travelling therapists would be nice. If the soldier can’t get to the therapy, get the therapy to the soldier.

  3. DaveSeptember 21, 2012 at 2:19 pmReply

    It is certainly a serious issue, but you might want to look at your headline again. If a veteran commits suicide every 80 seconds, that would be over 300,000 suicides a year. The article itself says that there are 12,000 attempted suicides a year.
    12,000 attempted suicides is alarming in itself, but your “1 ever 80 seconds” figure for suicides seems to be far too high.
    If I am missing something, let me know.

    • Brett WilkinsSeptember 23, 2012 at 5:53 pmReplyAuthor

      Thank you, typo corrected!

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