A War still Rages within Them
An epidemic of heartbreaking proportions is striking down members of our U.S. Armed Forces and veterans. It kills with a merciless hand and without reason. It does not discriminate. They die before their time. The killer's name is suicide.
Through November, 177 active-duty soldiers and reserve personnel had committed suicide in the 11 months of 2012. In all of 2012, 176 soldiers were killed in action in Operation Enduring Freedom. More soldiers died from suicide than succumbed to battle-related injuries (2012) and this admission comes from the Department of Defense (DoD).
The Army's suicide rate has climbed by 9 percent since the military branch launched its suicide-prevention campaign in 2009. In all of 2011 there were 165 suicides, in 2010, 156. Army suicides have increased by at least 54 percent since 2007 when there were 115 -- a figure the Washington Post called "an all-time record" at the time.
Although not all combat-related deaths in Operation Enduring Freedom occurred in Afghanistan, the vast majorities have taken place there, especially in recent years.
"I am asking soldiers, family members, Department of the Army civilians, neighbors, and friends to look out for each other and reach out and embrace those who my be struggling," Lt. Gen. Howard B. Bromberg, deputy chief of staff for manpower and personnel, said in a DoD release.
The problem is not confined to the U.S. Army either. Speaking at the National Press Club on Aug. 28, Marine Corps Commandant James Amos said that 2012 will be a "tough year" for all of the armed services, when it comes to military suicides.
The U.S. Army makes available suicide prevention resources for troops and their families, including hotlines and links to suicide outreach organizations geared towards military personnel. And although this program is designed to minimize suicide behavior, it is not a crisis center and refers would-be suicide individuals to the National Suicide Prevention Hotline.
Upon hearing this, your first thought might be that the Army should be more directly involved. A strong argument could be made for the status quo (administratively). Let's take personnel currently enrolled in the U.S. Naval Nuclear Power Program, for instance. This program consists of three individual schools in Goose Creek, S.C. -- Atomic, Nuclear Power and Nuclear Power Training Unit (Prototype) -- and all three are "accelerated" to the point whereupon graduation the student (enlisted) will have earned 60-80 college credits in a little more than 18 months. The stress that some of these young men and women endure can obviously be trying. But once their term of enlistment is done (six years for enlisted Nukes), they can start employment in the civilian nuclear field with an above-average rate of pay and, for some, the world could be theirs.
Here is the point of using this example: If an individual taking the course finds his or her self prone to suicidal thoughts they are normally not going to tell anyone. That would probably end their careers in the nuclear field (and possibly the Navy). In its defense, the Navy has to have people who have shown they are capable of handling high-stress nuclear problems that may arise, with maturity and forbearance. And for that matter, so does America. It's a classic Catch-22 situation.
Additionally, anecdotal stories abound within the school of those who have committed suicide and are posthumously disparaged (among the students) for having done so. What young man or woman wants to consider that? But these youthful adults are some of the brightest, committed people in the country and deserve better -- as all of our Armed Forces personnel and veterans do. They have contributions left to make and much more should be done to help each and every one of them. Saving their lives comes first and foremost. Learned experts in the field of suicide should be brought to bear on this widespread affliction. It's time to bypass denial, stop pretending it isn't a dilemma and make the admission that suicide among the ranks of our military personnel and veterans is a serious, exigent problem.
Suicide is not just a prevalent problem with active-duty and Reserve personnel -- it places its cold hand of death upon our veterans in alarming numbers.
An especially tragic story recently appeared in the Army Times William Busbee, a 23-year-old Special Forces veteran of Afghanistan, sat in a car last March at his mom's house in Callaway, Fla. and shot himself while his mother and sisters looked on.
"I kept yelling, 'Don't do this. Don't do it.' He wouldn't turn his head to look at me," Libby Busbee said.
William Busbee was no casualty of the war in Afghanistan. He was a casualty of his own mind, his mother said.
According to a Veterans Affairs (VA) report this spring, a veteran commits suicide every 80 minutes. More than 6,500 suicides have occurred since the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan began. For every service member who dies in battle, 25 veterans die by their own hands.
And while only 1 percent of Americans have served in those two wars, veterans of these conflicts represent 20 percent of all suicides in the United States, the VA reported. If you were acquainted with a member or veteran of the U.S. Military who chose suicide don't for one minute be ashamed to say you knew them. And if you did not know them, don't be reluctant to shed a tear for them, and maybe a prayer. Let their memory linger on. For they, too, had dreams and songs to sing.
New Mexico resident Mike Curran's political columns have been published in American Thinker. He is a two-time New Mexico Press Association award recipient and writes once-a-week political opinion columns for the Ruidoso News. He may be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org