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Soldier Suicide Deaths Could Surpass Combat Deaths

The harsh reality that suicides may outnumber combat deaths among those who have served in Afghanistan and Iraq is prompting preventative action.

Yesterday, the head of the National Institute on Mental Health offered depressing figures to the American Psychiatric Association. Of the 1.6 million troops deployed to Afghanistan and Iraq, almost 20 percent show symptoms of Post Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD), depression, or both. They estimate that 70 percent do not seek treatment for these conditions, which can lead to substance abuse and suicide. Mental health professionals, who treat veterans, were urged to proactively recognize and treat such symptoms.

In a hopeful move, last week the Secretary of Defense announced that military personnel seeking help for PTSD will no longer get that positive action counted against them for security clearance purposes.

In addition, some want a PTSD diagnosis to make a servicemember eligible for the Purple Heart, bringing the hidden wound out of the shadows.

Are you aware of this long-term cost of war? Do members of society have an obligation to support returning veterans? If so, how can we fulfill such duty? Are you happy to see that both the military and mental health professionals are trying to address the psychological scars of warfare?


geohiker geohiker 9 years
It just makes me so furious that it has taken so long for the government and the news media to notice this (or to not be able to sweep it under the rug and pretend like there is no problem). My father was a combat Viet Nam vet who served only one year in combat (unlike our poor soldiers now - abused by our government by serving repeated terms), but has been affected for the rest of his life. Any of our soldiers who are able to hold onto the shards the government has made of their lives deserves not only our unqualified respect (as they all do) but also an incredibly amount of admiration and a debt that we, as a country who has let this happen, can never pay back. Too bad the people in charge of starting this war have never had a single day of combat between them; it might have made them stop and think a little bit before destroying lives here and abroad. My anti-war feelings were formed entirely by growing up watching my father struggle with his PTSD (before they had this name and quick diagnosis; we just knew he was suffering). I have vivid memories of his nightmares, and his inability to sleep through the night - ever; his walking around the house every single night after we were asleep, checking the doors and windows to be sure they were locked. We could not shake him awake in the morning or when he was napping - trying this at a very young age and having him go for my throat (stopping just in time from hurting me) was a very quick lesson. (We would either let him sleep, or stand across the room and whisper "Dad" to wake him up; when he jerked awake we were safely out of range.) I was at at least 13 before I realized that not every father kept guns behind all the doors and windows, and not everyone slept with a shotgun under the bed, for easy access - just in case. He can not sit with his back to a door - in public or at home. He can not stand under a light at night, or sit in a car at night with the overhead light on - he is always worried about being a target. He gets flashbacks from movies with lots of fighting or any sort of combat. He has a hair-trigger temper sometimes; he gets depressed. Is it all the fault of his time spent in combat? Who know? It certainly did not help him at all - and neither did his government when he returned to the US. At least our society understands the extra damage done to the soldiers of Viet Nam when they were spit on and called baby killers - for doing what the leaders of the country instructed them to do; thank goodness that has changed at least, so we do not inflict injury on top of injury on our veterans. For the most part, his problems have not changed - and it has been 40 years since he has been back from combat. What will life be like for our soldiers serving now? Will they still be suffering in 40 years? 50? This is not a problem that will go away; the returning veterans of Viet Nam also killed themselves in great numbers than those who were killed in combat. Despite it all, he has been very successful - he was a college professor, had two great kids (I modestly say), and all the trappings of a good life. The media occasionally tosses out the statistics on the numbers of homeless who are vets - I've seen figures of 25% or more. And, no one is paying much attention to the vets who are physically wounded in combat - ten times the number who are killed. My dad was lucky. We are lucky to have him. We are lucky he volunteered to serve his country at a time it was so unpopular to do so. But, there should have been more for him, and for everyone he served with. And, obviously these problems do not stop with just the veteran; I was not even born when my dad went to Viet Nam - but it has shadowed my entire life. Families are also forever altered by the experiences their veterans have endured. War and the resulting terrible things are sometimes necessary - it is naive and ridiculous to think that all problems can be solved peaceably by nice, rational, good-hearted people. But, it is beyond terrible for any nation to just blindly send people to kill and die. I know there will never be any direct accountability for the criminally stupid and negligent way Bush and his officials have conducted themselves. But - I hope that, at the very least, they understand enough about the damage they have done to feel really guilty at night about the terrible price they have given to others to pay - while declining to pay anything themselves. I know that history will not be kind to them, but what will that help? Our soldiers - and their families - are still broken. I can only hope that future leaders will look back at this disaster and learn some lessons from it. (Sorry to go on so much about this, but I - obviously - feel very strongly pro-soldier.)
krampalicious krampalicious 9 years
this does not surprise me at all. a friend of a friend of mine went on multiple tours to iraq, and he already had substantial mental health issues with depression, anxiety and drug abuse. he came back from the war, shot himself in the face, and LIVED. he now no longer has a lower jaw or tongue, he cannot speak, he is blind in one eye and is still facing multiple plastic surgery procedures along with years of therapy. does he deserve a purple heart? no, but he does deserve respect and honor, just like every one of our solider who have sacrificed for this pointless, ridiculous war.
j2e1n9 j2e1n9 9 years
How sad :( This reminds me of my Grandpa and the stories I have heard about him after the Korean War.
hypnoticmix hypnoticmix 9 years
I agree completely BeautiJunki the Pentagon and the V.A. need to come up with a proactive diagnosis plan and iron out the logistics of deploying more mental health specialists to actual war zones.
heineken67 heineken67 9 years
I'd encourage anyone really interested in this topic to read "On Killing: The Psychological Cost of Learning to Kill in War and Society" by Lt. Col. Dave Grossman. He goes over the various factors in war which heavily influence soldiers' psychological reactions, and how he believes the military could improve their policies. Highly recommended.
BeautiJunki BeautiJunki 9 years
Hypno you mentioned that this started with vietnam dad was a nam vet who was an 18 year old soldier and he was a great dad but the va diagnosed him as a disabled veteran in his 40's after he hit a wall of depression he could not get past...everyone gets blue from time to time...but if the va isn't really monitoring soldiers when they return from combat or long leave then how can we help the mentally ill, most aren't going to say hey im not well, my mind is sick and i want to make it better. Our current soldiers are put under really long deployments and if they don't have hope then they will get depressed and if they don't have trained mental medics in the combat zone they will just stew in their thoughts. sad, really sad. we owe them better if not our government than us.
piper23 piper23 9 years
From my personal experience, my husband's good friend that he served with hasn't been the same since they came home. War affects people differently. And perhaps some people are predisposed for a mental illness and all they lack is a trigger. I don't know. I just feel for the soldiers who think that suicide is the answer to their problems and the families left to pick up the pieces.
piper23 piper23 9 years
Thanks for recognizing the National Guard, bek!
bek9400 bek9400 9 years
PTSD is a very real issue that the military deals with. My husband was deployed twice to Iraq and I have to say that if the military really cared about this subject as much as they would like everyone to think they do, they would do more for the soldiers in the way of preventing and treating this issue when the return from duty. They do have a few mandatory classes when they return, but I think they could do WAY more to help the men and women returning. Also I have to say that if the Army would follow the other permenant branches i.e. Marines and Air Force and make the tours of duty a bit shorter then 11 to 13 months that would also help greatly. It not only has to do with being in a seeminly unending war, but being away from friends and family that way so heavily on the soldiers. I would also like to commend members of the National Guard that have to spend anywhere from 18 months to 2 years at a time overseas, your service is just as important to this country as any active duty members is.
Jillness Jillness 9 years
That must have been an intense time for you, Megatron. If I could do the emoticon that shows hugging, I would do it right now! Thank you for your service. What do you think of the medical treatment that veterans receive? I would love to get your perspective. If it is too personal, I understand.
Megatron Megatron 9 years
*from the Persian Gulf.
Megatron Megatron 9 years
There was a guy on the ship I was on who committed suicide a couple of months after we got home the Persian Gulf. It was incredibly sad.
Jillness Jillness 9 years
Sigh.... I spent my frustration on the other thread! If only I had known this was in the pipeline!
jennifer76 jennifer76 9 years
If 20% of veterans have PTSD, why would they award Purple Hearts for it? Seems like it wouldn't mean much. At the same time, my husband has a Purple Heart for a combat wound that will not likely affect him for life, whereas PTSD possibly could... Interesting question. Seems like a statement like "suicide deaths could surpass combat deaths" should be backed up by some kind of evidence. I'm surprised the linked article just alludes to the issues with nothing concrete on actual suicides. But, then I'm a numbers kind of girl. It would cost the military a LOT more money to rotate soldiers in and out more quickly, and I think that is the one really effective way to limit psychological issues. Every soldier I know would vastly prefer shorter tours more often than these tours that drag on and on. But, nobody wants to spend more on the war, so there you have it... :(
stephley stephley 9 years
Did you see the movie Patton, where he slapped the soldier in the hospital for basically PTSD but they had another name for it then? Soldiers were shell-shocked, combat fatigued, battle fatigued. Wiki says during the Civil War, the symptoms were called 'soldier's heart' or 'nostalgia'(???).
LibertySugar LibertySugar 9 years
In the meantime, here is an article about a criminal trial going on right now regarding a VA internal email about suicide attempts. It offers some figures. From the AP:
The Department of Veterans Affairs' top mental health official said Tuesday he made a poor choice of words when he sent his colleagues an e-mail about suicide data that started out with "Shh!" Dr. Ira Katz, the VA's mental health director, told the House Veterans Affairs Committee that the e-mail was in poor tone — even though the body contained "appropriate, healthy dialogue" about the data. The e-mail claims 12,000 veterans a year attempt suicide while under department treatment. "Is this something we should (carefully) address ourselves in some sort of release before someone stumbles on it?" the e-mail asks.
LibertySugar LibertySugar 9 years
I'll get on it for you guys! The head of the National Institute on Mental Health was offering predictions, I believe. So, there weren't hard numbers in that piece regarding suicides so far.
hausfrau hausfrau 9 years
Maybe we could make it up to them if they choose to accept it. PTSD is not a new thing, it just has a name now. I can't imagine PTSD didn't exist until this war... So what about all those people? Also there is some evidence to suggest that some people may be geneticly more prone to PTSD, should that factor into whether or not they get a Purple Heart? Just wondering aloud...
cine_lover cine_lover 9 years
I am wondering the same thing Pop. Liberty do you have any figures that say the amount of Suicides?
stephley stephley 9 years
It's really personal but we shouldn't encourage feeling embarrassed or ashamed - people have gotten Purple Hearts for accidentally hurting themselves, why should someone with PTSD feel shy?
hypnoticmix hypnoticmix 9 years
It seems as though ever since the Vietnam War we have been inadequate to the point of absence in some cases when it comes to caring for our combat veterans. It would seem to me that if we are going to ask these young men and women to make the ultimate sacrifice it should be our civic duty if not our personal privilege to care for them when they return. Our neglect in this area is simply nothing less than shameful. I don't understand this. There are just so many things that we allow to happen needlessly collectively knowing that it is wrong and this is just one of them. I swear if I could light a fire under Americas @$$ I would.
popgoestheworld popgoestheworld 9 years
"The harsh reality that suicides may outnumber combat deaths among those who have served in Afghanistan and Iraq is prompting preventative action. " That's very surprising to me? Anyone know what the #s are?
hausfrau hausfrau 9 years
Besides, I know when I see people with medals I always ask for the story because I'm nosy and curious :) I don't think that if I haad PTSD I'd want to tell someone thats how I got my Purple Heart... that just seems really personal.
ehadams ehadams 9 years
This is very sad. :(
hausfrau hausfrau 9 years
While I agree that PTSD goes under reported and there should be no negative action for trying to get help, I don't think I agree that it shouldn't affect security clearance. Also, I don't think they should be eligible for the Purple Heart... until about a year ago you weren't eligible for a Purple Heart if you got injured by an IED... I think we need to update those standards first.
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