Suicide Kills More Active Military Personnel Than Combat

With all of the news about Afghanistan and Iraq, you would expect the number one cause of deaths of American soldiers would be from combat, but that is not the case.  In fact, the number one cause of military deaths is worse than combat, it’s from suicide.

According to a recent release, there were 313 Army personnel killed in combat (Operation Enduring Freedom) for the year of 2012.  During that same timeframe, the Army reported 325 suicides.  That’s up from the previous year which reported 283 suicides, an increase of 15% in just one year.

In a second report, there were 349 suicides among active-duty military personnel for the year 2012. That’s 15 suicides shy of one per day among our active-duty military personnel.

Lieutenant General Howard Bromberg, Deputy Chief of Staff, manpower and personnel for the Army, says the Army is taking the record number of suicides very seriously, saying:

“The Army continues to take aggressive measures head-on to meet the challenge of suicides as every loss of life impacts our family. In spite of the increased loss of life to suicide, with calendar year 2012 being our highest on record, the Army is confident that through our continued emphasis in the services, programs, policies and training that support our Army family, we will overcome this threat to our Force.”

For a number of years top military brass have tried to identify what leads to suicide among active military personnel. They tried to develop ways to help serviceman cope with the stress of combat even though they claim that there is no direct link between suicides and the stress of being in a combat zone.

However others are not so sure and point to an increase in the number of cases of post-traumatic stress disorder also known as PTSD. One such person looking at this avenue is Doctor William Nash, an expert in injuries related to combat. He believes that the military has placed such a negative stigma on anyone diagnosed with PTSD that many cases go unreported and untreated. Commenting on the subject Nash said:

“Nobody knows No. 1, why all the suicides. Nobody has a good theoretical model for explaining the vector, but these are some possible contributors. The whole system being strained, more temper, stigma is rampant, leaders who should be getting more education for mental health issues but are not.”

“To the extent that a military service branch that is having basically an epidemic of post-traumatic stress disorder is not embracing it as an epidemic, but instead sees it as ‘they’re faking’. Which has been part of the stigma problem.”

Paul Sullivan, a board member for Veterans for Common Sense, I spent over 20 years working to improve treatments and conditions for military veterans. His efforts have helped increase benefits and health care for veterans through the Veterans Administration. Commenting on the record suicide rate, Sullivan said:

“As the service members return home and as the wars wind down, the mental trauma of war remains and there is an urgent need to make sure every service member receives a psychological evaluation upon returning home, and whenever a service member reaches out for help, the service member needs to receive it immediately.”

“In both of those areas, the military is trying to improve, yet it’s still falling short. For example, the military is now providing more psychological exams, but it’s not doing it for every soldier coming back. And the military still reports that it’s short-handed for mental health professionals and, because of the vacancies, that means either veterans don’t see a doctor at all, there’s delay seeing a doctor, the veteran is put in group therapy instead of individual or the veteran is given prescription drugs instead of receiving one-on-one counseling, which is the best standard.”

While looking into this I discovered that the suicide rate among active-duty military personnel is not the only one to be increasing. Reviewing the suicide rates among Americans military veterans it was discovered that they are taking their own lives at a rate of 22 per day, or one every 65 seconds.

When I saw that figure my first thought that the majority of them would be among the veterans from Iraq and Afghanistan who were suffering from the effects of PTSD. However I was surprised to learn that 69% of suicides occured in veterans 50 years of age or older. That’s when it hit me that this group largely consists of veterans from Vietnam. The veterans of this war are my generation.

The Vietnam War is known to a number of veterans as the forgotten war. When our soldiers came home from this nightmare for many were treated like lepers by the general public. Not only did they have to deal with the horrors of what they experienced in the jungles of Southeast Asia, they also had to deal with the fact that many Americans thought of them as nothing more than baby killers.

Posttraumatic stress disorder was unheard of during the days of Vietnam and the term shell-shocked had been left behind after World War II and Korea. Some tried to blame it on exposure to defoliants like Agent Orange, many Americans often try to link it to rampant drug use and other illicit lifestyles.

Now these veterans of the only war that America lost are finding it harder and harder to cope in today’s society. Many have found it difficult to maintain jobs and families. In today’s struggling economy, jobs are even more scarce to many of America’s forgotten veterans who are finding it impossible to cope and turn to the only solution they can think of — suicide.

While companies like Wal-Mart are making efforts to hire 100,000 veterans who have left the service within the last 12 months, no efforts are being made to help older veterans of the forgotten wars. Men and women who served this nation are literally being abandoned by the same nation. More needs to be done for all of our veterans regardless of age or how long ago they served their nation.

When is the last time you did anything to help a veteran? Perhaps your act of kindness could be just the thing to give hope to one of the hopeless and make the difference in the life that served to protect your freedoms. Don’t just think about it. Do something about it!