Veteran Suicide: The New Tragedy Of Perpetual War

If this NYT story by Nicholas D. Kristof doesn’t break your heart, there’s something wrong with you:

HERE’S a window into a tragedy within the American military: For every soldier killed on the battlefield this year, about 25 veterans are dying by their own hands.

An American soldier dies every day and a half, on average, in Iraq or Afghanistan. Veterans kill themselves at a rate of one every 80 minutes. More than 6,500 veteran suicides are logged every year — more than the total number of soldiers killed in Afghanistan and Iraq combined since those wars began.

Read the article. Read particularly the individual family case study used as an example.

As the PTSD rate increases dramatically, America exits one war and maintains another only to contemplate a third. Our forces are strained to the limit, equipped and trained as they are for World War III (or greater; I don’t want an argument about the numbering scheme) when in fact they are sent to fight small wars of aggression that do not contribute materially to America’s security, but boy, do they contribute to the profits of defense contractors and to the patriotic image of flag-waving candidates for high public office.

For the health and well-being of America’s youth, the last thing we need is more war. But more war is very likely what we are going to get, and with it, more returning veterans with PTSD, finding themselves unable to cope with daily life, killing themselves precipitously by stepping in front of trains or slowly by drugs and alcohol. Someone… a whole lot of someones… is not doing a good job of preparing these young men and women on either end of their tours, entry into combat and re-entry into civil society on their return. Whatever becomes of the US in the next decade or two, we will have lost an unconscionably large fraction of the younger generation.

It’s simply not worth it. These stupid wars have got to come to an end. While the American people understand the folly of continuing endless war; America’s leaders seem prepared to continue them indefinitely, as vehicles of personal political power and sources of defense contractor money. This must end. What major party will do the job? What individual can ever find the leverage as president? Not a Republican, certainly, and not a Democrat, equally certainly. Will it take a catastrophe  of nation-shattering proportions before we stop wasting our young people like this?

(H/T Michael Moore for the Kristof link.)

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  • thepoormouth  On Sunday April 15, 2012 at 3:57 pm

    It is an appalling situation. 25 years after the Falklands war more British vets had committed suicide than died. There has been a high suicide rate among Argentine vets too. The USA is not the only nation to cast its veterans aside. It is a disgraceful and worldwide situation

    • Steve  On Monday April 16, 2012 at 10:35 am

      Shaun, once again I’ve repeated my mistake of thinking that the business of war can’t get any worse than what we saw at a given time. Of course it can; of course it does. The US is, as you say, disgraceful in largely neglecting its veterans, and it is not alone in that sorry practice. Modern military medicine manages to save many soldiers who would have died of their wounds in an earlier era, but what does a 25-year-old man or woman who has lost both legs and one arm in an IED explosion do with himself/herself after the war? America’s answer is not quite, but damned close to, “It’s your problem now.” More insidious are those driven to destroy themselves on hard drugs; either way, the result is death.

      Even Stella, who worked with veterans for quite a number of years, was surprised at the figure of 25 to 1. It is her impression that it has gotten worse.

  • Bryan  On Monday April 16, 2012 at 10:52 pm

    It is worse because in Vietnam you pulled your tour and it was over – 364 and a wake-up was it unless you volunteered.

    In this mess you come out of ‘the boonies’ knowing you are probably going back if you have enough time in your enlistment. You spend more time in the war zone than at home, and the home front turns to garbage.

    If you sustain serious wounds, especially head wounds, that college education you joined to get is further and further away. The VA resources are concentrated in a few areas, and not available to people outside of those areas. Even if they are available, there is a waiting list, and the disability pay is based on your pay without the housing and rations allowances, so it is minimal for the enlisted lower ranks. There is no health insurance included so you have to travel to VA centers for any medical problems.

    Even without full-blown PTSD it takes time to come down from the adrenilan high that is survival in a war zone. You can’t just turn it off when you step on your ride home. After WWII you could decompress on a boat for the trip back, but today you are in civilization in less than 24-hours.

    The drugs just blur the pain, it is self-medication, so you don’t have to think about it. It gets worse when you realize that you really didn’t accomplish anything, and it was a waste of lives.

    Another problem is that a lot of the vets who need help don’t want anything to do with military, the VA, or veterans organizations – they blame them for letting it happen.

    • Steve  On Monday April 16, 2012 at 11:33 pm

      Bryan, thanks for the essential info. Of my college friends who served in Vietnam who survived and returned, most seemed able to restore their sanity; service in Vietnam was not a “life sentence” of dementia. As for the VA, we have such a large facility in Houston that I tend to forget that not every returning veteran has such services available. Even here, as you point out, the wait may be weeks or even months.

      I may be inclined to overemphasize the class-war aspect of everything, but in this case, today’s Army is “all-volunteer” only in the most technical sense, because poor people may have no other avenue for obtaining a college education essential to a decent post-military life, and so the burden of PTSD and related disorders falls disproportionately on the poor, simply because there are so many more of them who enlist. This cannot be good for America’s actual security, and it is grossly unfair to the lowest economic class.

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