Another week, another story on the AP about how we are letting down our brave men and women in the military. This week, the story is that our troops are committing suicide at record rates.
Ninety-nine U.S. soldiers killed themselves last year, the highest rate of suicide in the Army in 26 years of record-keeping.
Nearly a third of the soldiers who committed suicide did so while serving in Iraq or Afghanistan, according to a report released Thursday. Iraq accounted for most of those — with 27 of the suicides coming from that conflict and three from Afghanistan. Also, there were 948 attempted suicides, officials said, adding that they didn’t have a comparison for previous years.
We cannot sit idly by while the troops who give so much to our country suffer any more than their duty requires them to do. We have to contact our representatives and get them to do everything in their power to take care of them. They are already fighting and dying for reasons beyond our comprehension, we need to do what we can to eliminate all the other causes of this increased suicide rate.
In a half million-person Army, last year’s suicide toll translates to a rate of 17.3 per 100,000, the highest since the Army started counting in 1980, officials said. The rate has fluctuated over those years, with the low being 9.1 per 100,000 in 2001.
We went from having a record low for soldier suicide before the war started to a record high in the fifth year of the war. This compares to a nation-wide suicide rate of 10.7/100,000 in 1999. To be fair the rate for males of the age range in the army is much higher than the national average, but the fact remains that the troop suicide rate has almost doubled since 2001. Partially because troops who have been deployed to the region have about three times the rate as those who have not, among other reasons.
Failed personal relationships, legal and financial problems and the stress of their jobs were factors motivating the soldiers to commit suicide, according to the report. It also found a significant relationship between suicide attempts and the number of days deployed in Iraq, Afghanistan or nearby countries where troops were participating in the war effort.
I have already mentioned in a diary about child abuse rates that divorce rates for soldiers in Iraq have gone up significantly. While some of that increase may be due to an increase in pre-deployment marriages, the divorce rate for officers is even higher than it is for enlisted. A divorce is still a divorce, and we should give soldiers and their spouses free counseling and make an honest attempt to relieve the stresses that are leading to divorce.
Speaking of child abuse rates, they go up when one parent is deployed. We are doing something wrong and not providing enough support to the spouses of our heroes. That is so not cool.
The article mentions that financial strains are among the causes of suicide rates. Meanwhile contractors and mercenaries are making fortunes out of this war. We certainly to make sure that the troops are making enough to support their families (I would love to see a law that said it was illegal to pay mercenary contractors more than soldiers of equivalent rank). An obvious problem is the predatory lending practices of many lenders near military bases. This weakens our military, reduces our readiness. There are many easy things we can do about that including making loans available to our troops at reasonable interest rates, or providing some form of consolidation or refinancing when they deploy overseas.
The article mentions that the Army recognizes that its mental health system is overwhelmed and is trying to do more to provide adequate care, and that “(t)he Army also has been working to stem the stigma associated with getting therapy for mental problems, after officials found that troops are avoiding counseling out of fear it could harm their careers.” This is yet another example of our military not being prepared for what our Commander in Chief decided to do with it, and the civilian authorities not adequately providing the “Army we wish we had.” We need to do what we can now to cope with those mistakes, and know that in the future we should prepare the infrastructure for assisting our troops as part of the preparation for entering a conflict. Also we need to amend the law so that soldiers can receive counseling without it affecting their careers, unless it is found that they can no longer serve, in which case they have earned an honorable discharge and disability.
The mental health of our those brave men and women who sacrifice so much for our country is our responsibility. We need to both confront the direct causes of the increase troop suicide and help them to receive help without stigma when they need it. We need to contact congress and tell them to support our troops. We need a plan to support them and their sacrifice. We need to think about what the troops need and what we can do to help.