Military suicides shouldn't be merely another war tragedy

We owe our people in uniform the resources to help them deal with stress in their lives
2013-01-18T00:00:00Z Military suicides shouldn't be merely another war tragedy Arizona Daily Star
January 18, 2013 12:00 am

The following editorial appeared in the Fort Worth Star-Telegram:

If every single day one U.S. soldier after another were being shot dead while deployed overseas, surely the American people wouldn't stand for it.

The situation is worse than that. Unofficial Pentagon figures, reported first by The Associated Press, show that 349 active-duty service members took their own lives in 2012.

The military rate is lower than in the general population, but that's no consolation. Troop suicides, the most in 11 years of tracking, exceeded military deaths last year: 310 in Afghanistan and one in Iraq, Time magazine military writer Mark Thompson reported Tuesday.

The suicides have common threads, he wrote: "The post-9/11 stress of military life is real, even if some of those in uniform have never been in a war zone."

Post-traumatic stress, depression and behavioral issues can damage personal relationships. Active-duty personnel might fear the uncertainty awaiting them in civilian life. Those in the field might not want to reveal their problems, and a strained counseling system might not help them cope adequately.

In early January, the Pentagon issued its study of 2011 military suicides, and it contained telling information, such as that 60 percent of the deaths involved firearms; 74 percent of those who took their lives didn't let others know they might harm themselves; 55 percent didn't have a known behavioral disorder; 24 percent were known to have substance abuse issues; and less than half had deployed to Iraq or Afghanistan. Relationships and jobs also were stressors.

Former Army psychiatrist Elspeth Ritchie said military leaders should use the latest data to help devise more ways of reducing suicide in the ranks.

Veterans need more attention, too. By some estimates, 18 veterans commit suicide each day, and Veterans Affairs facilities treat close to 1,000 ex-service members a month who've tried to kill themselves. But the strains on VA services are well-known.

A nation that allows a relatively small number of volunteers to put their lives at risk in war must also provide the resources to protect those lives, even from self-inflicted harm.

Copyright 2014 Arizona Daily Star. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.

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