Thursday, February 12, 2009


Last week, I got an email from the Kingston Times through the Ward Nine Group service which asked all subscribers: "What do you think should be in the surplus package?"

The last of my 10 point response, was a plea to upgrade of the way we serve our returning troops. It's a disgrace!

Yes, the US economy is a factor, but the system these young men & women are left to navigate once home, is heartbreakingly disfunctional. Mainly through the lack of funding.

This week, the shocking news of the increased rate of military suicides and the grim reality that these numbers surpassed the number of losses through combat, shook the public. I think we all took a few deep breaths once we stopped to think about it.

Alarmingly, at least 128 soldiers killed themselves in 2008, up 20 from last year, and the Army suicide rate surpassed that for civilians for the first time since the Vietnam War.

Army officials said: "The suicide count, which includes soldiers in the Army Reserve and the National Guard, is expected to grow."

An AP source in the NY Times stated: The Army did not identify a specific reason for the increase, but officials said 15-month deployments to war zones played a role. These deployments, which have allowed for little time away from the battlefield, have contributed to post-traumatic stress disorder, depression, alcohol abuse and family problems. Seven suicides took place in Afghanistan and 31 in Iraq.

In my response to the local paper, I noted that we do not have a specific program to help our returning hero's to the workforce, partly because of the downturn in the economy, but also because we have left them out of the equation when the administration decided to invest our bravest souls into combat for a war of choice.

According to several articles that came up when I searched the web: Thirty percent of the suicides in the last four years took place during a deployment. Thirty-five percent took place after a deployment. The remaining 35 percent of those who killed themselves had never deployed.

In recent months, the Army has increased their hiring of mental health care providers. Hundreds of them! Obama has pledged to hire plenty more, but Veterans’ and mental health advocates have been critical of the Army, saying it has been too slow to recognise and treat the tide of soldiers struggling with mental health problems after returning from Iraq or Afghanistan.

The executive director of Iraq and Afghanistan Veterans of America Paul Rieckhoff, said: “The suicide numbers released today come as no surprise to veterans who have experienced firsthand the psychological toll of war, since the Iraq war began, suicide rates and other signs of psychological injury, like marital strain and substance abuse, have been increasing every year.”

I posted an interview of Paul Rieckhoff moments ago, right below this article.

You can learn more about the efforts of this Veteran's advocacy group, by going to

If you would like to help the families of the youngsters who are serving in Iraq and Afghanistan, you can go to


Anonymous said...

I agree strongly with you that we need to do more to help our soldiers when they return from a deployment and also help them return to civilian life in a successful manner.

I was very surprised to learn from your article that the suicide rate (I am assuming this is on a percentage basis) for those in the Army recently surpassed that of civilians. I had assumed that had been the case all along. I am now wondering what this says about military life versus civilian life during times of peace.

I was also surprised to read that a little over 1/3 of the suicides committed by those in the Army were from those who had not been deployed. The stress during deployment and during the time after deployment is apparent, but what is the reason for those who have not been deployed? Is it basically the same reasons that lead civilians to commit suicide?

Anonymous said...


According to some things I've read about this, troops with mental / emotional health diagnoses - instead of being sent home like they used to be - were being (at least in some instances) given "quick fixes" and/or psuedo-fixes (all too often...) and being sent right back into the fray.

This is disgraceful. PTSD, one of the big diagnoses for anyone (and I ought to know...) that has experienced severe trauma generally does NOT respond to any "quick fixes" - and to add trauma on top of trauma on top of trauma only intensifies (usually in a tragic way) the ultimate (for the individual, the family, the community, the nation...) outcome.

Tragic stuff here. We owe (in terms of compassion, health care, education, etc.) our troops a lot!

BTW, I just caught the last post --- and I think (based on what I've seen and heard) basic training camps [both of my brothers served in the U.S. Army; one deployed to Germany; one to Korea] can be (some of the time? all of the time?) extremely stressful and/or traumatic (especially for already vulnerable individuals) as well...

Not to mention leaving loved one's behind, being "trained" (it is not really in our nature) "to kill" (might some choose to take their own lives instead?), etc...

There are some great books out on this topic...

Too bad our last "Commander-in-Chief" didn't appear to be (sorry, this stuff really irks me!) much of a reader...


Anonymous said...

My sister's husband is a mess. Their household income is negligible and if it weren't for our two families working together they would have lost the house by now.

The trauma of what he saw while in combat is keeping him down and the VA isn't worth sh*t. He may not be suicidal, but I can see where some of our bravest might come home and think about it.