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Suicide rate among soldiers and marines rise in the last year.

30 January, 2009

Back in November, shortly after I started this blog I wrote a little rant about the military finally getting around to acknowledging the reality of the Gulf War Syndrome (here).  Today, I read  in both The L.A. Times (here) and The N.Y.Times (here), that there has been a rise in suicides in the military recently.  Both papers report that 128  soldiers had killed themselves last year.  There were an additional 41 suicides in the Marine Corps according to another L.A. Times story referenced (here). Both numbers are high, higher for the Marines since the Iraq invasion and higher for the Army than they have been for 30 years.  The Army numbers are higher than the civilian population numbers; the Marines are not.

What struck me once again is that the spokespeople for the military appear to be totally clueless.

“We all come to the table believing stress is a factor,” said Gen. Peter W. Chiarelli, the Army’s vice chief of staff.
(quote from The L.A. Times)

WTF!  Bring a little more to the table, guys.

The Army did acknowledge, however, that the increased length of deployment to Iraq MIGHT be a factor – causing stress, marital difficulties, and other problems.

_____________________ See what I mean?  Absolutely clueless______________________

First, I would like someone to show me figures that indicate American soldiers have returned from WWI, WWII, Korea, Viet Nam, or any other major engagement without stress.

Secondly, whatever the Defense Department or the Veterans Affairs Department say, it is clear that once again they are not providing for the needs of our returning vets, either those suffering from mental distress or physical injury – or both.

I have seen it happen personally as I indicated in the blog I mentioned earlier.  My future son-in-law had a difficult time getting diagnosed and treated, partly because he could not get an appointment or the meetings were canceled or because he kept getting sent from one doctor to another.  When my daughter started going with him and recording these incidents and “creating a fuss,” things changed.  But, get this.  They sent him for an MRI.  As he entered the machine, a technician ran out saying he had forgotten to take off his tags, but he had not.  What he had never been told and what was not on his records is that when surgery was performed on his neck in Iraq the doctors did not/could not remove from his neck all metal from whatever it was that hit him.  Really?  That would have been a good piece of information for him to have before they sent him home.  It certainly was enough to change the way the doctors responded to his complaints.  And obviously they would never have put him in an MRI knowing that the metal could easily have caused severe damage if a piece had come ripping out of his neck.  Luckily for him, the technician noticed and responded immediately.

He’s not an isolated case.  I’ve had conversations with other members of my family, friends, and strangers who have talked about the services they received when they came home.  The recent scandal at Walter Reed Hospital is just the tip of the iceburg.  The wounded coming home from Iraq and Afghanistan have different kinds of injuries than soldiers from other wars (though obviously they also have traditional war wounds); they need a different kind of care which they apparently are not getting.

Thirdly, what is with this idea of training soldiers to recognize the signs of suicide in their buddies so they can turn them in?  Let’s see:  My buddy is depressed; I think I’ll take him to the hospital.  Wait, we are all depressed.  How do I know if he is suicidal?  What did they say at that training yesterday?  I think I slept through it.  Hmm, I don’t have time to think about it because we are taking fire, or we are far from base, or we are on an important mission and we can’t spare him.

Finally, does anyone else know anything about the kind of indoctrination being used to train modern combat forces?  Each man is part of a team – not an individual, but a part of a working unit, each man is responsible for his team, etc.  Kind of like “no ranger left behind” (which I understand because my husband was a ranger) but it is so much worse.  My future son-in-law was medically declared unready to return to Iraq when his unit redeployed, but he kept getting phone calls from people who knew, but were trying to get him to go “voluntarily” because his unit needed him; he told me:  they are my buddies,  I should be with them,  we look out for one another.  He “wanted” to go back and might have if common sense/my daughter had not finally prevailed.

You can’t spend months brainwashing people into thinking they must all be together to look after one another and then offer a one-day course on how to encourage your buddy to go the hospital if you suspect something.  It won’t happen; he won’t go, he’ll say he’s fine or he’ll be alright once he starts moving; whatever his reason, he can convince you he must stay because the team is not whole without him.   Like my son-in-law, his first thought will be for the others, rather than for himself.  Maybe they should assign a couple of MP’s to each team, so that someone can be spared to drag the guy to the hospital.

I didn’t approve of this war, but I certainly don’t approve of the way we treat the soldiers who fight them when called upon. Demand that the Office of Veterans Affairs do its jobs better.   It and the Defense Department must reconsider the length of deployment, the multiple deployments, the quality of care the wounded receive, the quality of care each person receives after battle, and the support offered to veterans and their families when they return.

Our veterans deserve better.


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One Comment leave one →
  1. Sunshinelvr permalink
    31 January, 2009 21:15

    Amen! Good post.

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