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Military Suicides and the Senate.

March 23, 2009

“Last year the Army had its highest suicide rate on record — 140 soldiers. But new data from the Army on Wednesday showed the number jumping even higher. Forty-eight soldiers have already killed themselves so far this year. If that rate keeps up, nearly 225 Army soldiers will be dead by their own hand by the end of 2009.”

Now, I don’t want to get too somber right away here at LeftFace, but over the past few months the issues of mental health and suicides in military troops has been popping up on the nation’s radar (see Salon, CNN, NYT, WaPo, etc.) and it is something that we gals at LeftFace have been talking about for quite some time. Everything from the unease over a soldier* admitting to having PTSD, gross over-medication, the suck-it-up mentality of most of the armed forces, the violence (against self and others) and the crumbling families that litter our units. This is what happens when problems are ignored. And I would bet that every one of us know a family or a soldier who is dealing with these issues in some capacity.

As for me? We’ve been lucky. Yes, my husband does have an exaggerated startle response. And yes, he does have nightmares… some of which turn physical, though never with me. But it hasn’t been an issue for us yet… I can only hope that this deployment he is on does no further damage.

Isn’t that what we all hope? That our loved ones come back the same person who left? That we aren’t greeting a shell of the man or woman who we sent away? Hoping beyond all hope that we won’t have to deal with PTSD issues, substance abuse, suicidal tendencies, or worse (on top of the reintegration process)? But all of this is becoming so common. So common that it making news. A few days ago Salon had another article about the issues and the Senate hearing that was held on the 18th of March to discuss what the heck is going on.

Unfortunately, this is what the Marines came up with:

“”We have been concerned that one outcome of the stress from operational deployments might be increased suicides,” said Amos, the assistant commandant of the Marine Corps. “However, to date, we have not seen that hypothesis prove out,” he added, noting that Marines with multiple deployments to war are not “overrepresented in the suicide population.” Rather, Amos pointed the finger at relationships. “We have looked at the data to try to find answers that will enable us to address this needles loss of life,” he said. “The most likely cause is a failed relationship with a woman,” Amos said flatly.”

Yes, suicide rates are skyrocketing because of failed relationships. Gaw, if that was the case, the entire world would have suicide rates that are off the charts. I find it alarming that the best ‘lowest common denominator’ the Marines could come up with is failed relationships. Not the war that nearly every one of these people have been to, not the up-tempo deployment schedule, not the atrocities that they see, not anything in any way related to the wars they continually send these troops into. Convenient, no?

I will say that the Army did do a tiny bit better:

“Chiarelli, the Army vice chief of staff, inched toward admitting that war-related stress constituted part of the problem. “We are at war, and we have been at war for the past seven-plus years,” he noted. “That has undeniably put a strain on our people and equipment,” he admitted. “The reality is we are dealing with a tired and stretched force.” He quickly added that other factors, including marital discord, family disagreements, legal, financial and work problems, may have caused the spike in suicides.”

Well, that was kind of like kissing your sister, but at least he admitted the possibility that all of this is stemming from war. It is a big step forward in getting them to accept the ‘blame’ for what is happening. But no matter what lip-service the armed forces give the Senate, you, me, or their troops, the bottom line is that our soldiers aren’t getting the help and the support that they need. PTSD is probably a fact of war that we cannot, maybe ever, eradicate. But we can deal with the after effects; we can treat those who are haunted by it and help them cope. They deserve nothing less. And it is our duty to help.

“But a behavioral health worker at a southern Army installation described her current job climate like a car repair shop, with every slot full in the garage and a line going down the block. I asked her if the new programs would stem the tide of suicides. “No,” she answered.”

And that breaks my heart.

What do we do? Where do we go from here? How do we fix this? Because I know that if we speak up loud enough, if we get people’s attention, if we use our numbers for good.. we can change this. We can help make it right.

 *This is my bias as an Army wife and weariness of typing ‘servicemen and women’… my apologies to all of you non-Army folks!

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3 Comments leave one →
  1. MegO permalink
    March 23, 2009 2:49 pm

    Thank you for your article, Tucker. This is one of the most ignored issues and I think that is a shame. You are right that one of the best ways to make a change is by talking about it. Thanks for starting the discussion.

  2. The Army Wife permalink
    March 23, 2009 3:41 pm

    Excellent post, Tuck. You know how I feel on this issue, and I think that you’re right … we need to keep talking about it. We need to keep bringing it up, and NOT let it be forgotten. Because the minute it stops making news is the minute the military will say, it’s not an issue anymore. And we all know that is so far from the truth.

    Good job.

  3. March 23, 2009 5:05 pm

    Great, let’s blame the women for the suicides. Ugh. Don’t we get enough pressure as it is without being told that if we aren’t good wives/girlfriends that our loved one might become suicidal?

    So glad you posted this, Tucker. This is an issue we must not let up on.

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