Something must be done. The United States government must pour all available — and unavailable, for that matter — resources into stopping the rising rate of suicides amongst American military personnel. The alarming statistics show that suicides by active duty soldiers, National Guard, and Reserve troops has risen to 115 in 2008, which is a nearly 13 percent increase over the 102 military suicides in 2006. Couple this with the fact that a number of troops with new cases of post-traumatic stress disorder jumped by roughly 50 percent in 2007 and you see just how much our brave men and women are crying out for desperate help and counseling.
Though the conflict in Iraq has made substantial progress over the past year and there has been a remarkable reduction in casualties and injuries, still the trauma of the conflict has a lingering toll on our military forces at home and abroad. There’s no need to rehash all the initial problems of the Iraq War that have arisen over the last six years, but plainly speaking in the beginning we lost many human lives and the injury toll is unspeakable. And now we are learning that the problems of the war are not just happening on the battlefield, but in the homes of young veterans at home.
“Since the beginning of the global war on terror, the Army has lost over 580 soldiers to suicide, an equivalent of an entire infantry battalion task force,” the Army said in a suicide prevention guide to installations and units that was posted in mid-March on the army’s website. “This ranks as the fourth leading manner of death for soldiers, exceeded only by hostile fire, accidents and illnesses,” it said. “Even more startling is that during this same period, 10 to 20 times as many soldiers have thought to harm themselves or attempted suicide.”
Shocking as these statistics sound, it’s actually worse. These aforementioned numbers don’t include the army and reserve troops who have completely finished their duty and returned to civilian life. The Department of Veterans Affairs tracks suicides amongst soldiers who have left active duty and found that there have been 144 suicides among the nearly 500,000 service members who left the military from 2002-2005 after fighting in at least one of the wars on terror. Furthermore, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, the VA estimates that 18 veterans a day or 6,500 a year take their own lives, although this number includes veterans of all American wars.
It’s not as though the government and military are not doing anything to stop the suicides and PTSD problems — it’s just that what they are doing is clearly not enough. We know that they have created education programs to help soldiers identify mental health problems in themselves and their fellow soldiers. They also have reportedly hired 180 mental health professionals to help identify issues and support military personnel. More mental health training and a suicide prevention program are also part of the ramped up efforts to help soldiers cope with long tours of duty and distressing situations they face overseas. Yet more can and must be done. This serious and distressing situation needs more medical and psychological attention to ease the pain and suffering of these soldiers and their families. We must make a financial commitment to the health of our soldiers — one that is more comprehensive than anything we’ve ever contemplated. Once we secure the proper funding, there are immediate actions we must take to help our soldiers live long and prosperous lives in or out of the military. We must expand and upgrade the VA hospitals, emergency centers, and wellness clinics. We must provide total, unequivocally free health care for life for every soldier and their immediate family. We must provide unprecedented precautionary and reactionary services, both in the traditional and non-traditional sense. This means that services like acupuncture, hypnosis, message therapy, chiropractic sessions, individual counseling, and group therapy must be available at no charge to soldiers if doctors deem them necessary. We need to have mental health professionals working full time with each brigade overseas, and we must ensure that every soldier receives support — physically, mentally, and emotionally — while at war or at home.
What I am talking about will not be easy. It will take time and money. It will require elected officials to put their money where their mouths are and appropriate money for our soldiers’ health instead of our congressmen’s pet projects. But most of all it will take the will of the American people to stand up to Congress and demand that our soldiers are cared for in every way possible during and after military service. Anything less would be un-American.