Harm’s Way : Escalation and the GI Suicide Crisis


Mental health and the suicide rate:
Sending soldiers into harm’s way

By Michael Anthony / The Rag Blog / December 4, 2009

President Obama recently stated that sending more troops into harm’s way in Afghanistan is a solemn decision — one that he would not rush. As a veteran, I find the decision to send troops into harm’s way without an effective military mental health program in place beyond solemn. It’s deeply disturbing. Keeping soldiers mentally fit should be as important as keeping them physically fit.

Since the wars in Afghanistan and Iraq started, nearly 2,000 active-service soldiers have killed themselves, according to a report by the San Antonio Express-News earlier this year. Even more alarming is the fact that every day, five active-duty service members attempt suicide. In the past eight years, that means up to 14,000 have felt their life is not worth living.

The government doesn’t want you to know this. In the spring of 2008, CBS news journalist Armen Keteyian exposed a Veterans Administration cover up of suicide stats. The reporting revealed that every day, 18 veterans kill themselves and roughly 1000 attempt suicide each month. The VA’s head of Mental Health had claimed there were only 790 attempts in all of 2007, a far cry from the reality.

Among all veterans, over the eight years we’ve been at war in the Middle East, the statistics point out that roughly 50,000 have committed suicide, with upwards of 44,000 attempting suicide. These figures only represent data gathered since 2001; this has been an ongoing and persistent problem since Vietnam — and the numbers go up each day.

Recently, the Army made a big deal about giving $50 million to fund a five-year research project on military suicide. In their book, The Three Trillion Dollar War, Linda J. Bilmes and Nobel Prize-winning economist Joseph E. Stiglitz figured the cost of the Iraq war at $12 billion a month. That means we spend more than $16 million an hour.

If you do the math, the $50 million that went to suicide research is what we spend every three hours in Iraq.

The day after Christmas this year will mark our 3,000th day at war. At this point, we’ve heard a lot about suicide bombers, but what about suicide? Regardless of anyone’s feelings about our involvement in Iraq and Afghanistan, these soldiers deserve much more than three hours of our time.

[SPC Michael Anthony is the author of Mass Casualties: A Young Medic’s True Story of Death, Deception and Dishonor in Iraq (Adams Media, October 2009). The book is drawn from the personal journals of SPC Anthony during his first year of service in Iraq.]

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16 Responses to Harm’s Way : Escalation and the GI Suicide Crisis

  1. masterspork says:

    I agree that PTSD and Suicide is real issue from these conflicts. I disagree on how to deal with them.

    In the past few cases where I was working with people that where dealing with PTSD like symptoms I noticed some common thoughts.

    They were frustrated at the fact that when they often had to repeat their issues at what they are dealing with on each visit because the mental health people see many people that it is hard to keep a one on one interactions. It is harder if the person is replaced or went to another smaller base to talk to the people there.

    If anything if someone is going to open up about anything it is going to be the people that they deal with everyday. That is why the role of the medic is/must change to include constant watch on
    Check on everyone in your unit. I would ask everyone that I met during the day how they were or how things where going. Because there are people that may seek help but are not sure how to ask. So by always asking you are leaving a open ended invitation to bring up anything that is bothering them.

    Also people are not going to open up unless they are comfortable and being in a place that you make you feel uncomfortable with a person that you do not know your going to hold things back. That is why when I talked to people that where in a place they dealt with on a regular bases. Also they do not have to explain the back story since we both work together and can get right to the chase. I will talk about this more down the page. I think that it was put best when it was said that “I did not want to be looked at like a lab rat”. This person also confirmed that they would rather talk to me then a mental health specialist because we had both been there and the person may have not .

    Now comes the people that are dealing with real PTSD issues. The problem that is faced when trying to help them is that it is a good bet that they have seen mental health before and nothing really got fixed. So now they become jaded about seeking mental health again. I was told “What good is it going to do”. I told him that I did not have the rank or the abilities but let me try to help you. As I worked with him, he was coping much better. He was sent back to the States after it was determined that it was in his best interests. Also what I would do with him and other people is ask twice. Because people may get asked “How are you” so much that they just give a automatic reply. But if you ask them again it will through them off and say what is on there mind and you can start working from there. For example;

    “Hey, (Name), how are you holding up today.

    “ I am good”

    “And the real answer is?”

    “If I keep saying yes it must be” (sarcasm)

    “Talk to me”

    Another thing that I used was smoking as a way to quietly isolate someone so I can talk to them in private without other people knowing he is having problems. I would ask for a cigarette, then ask if he wanted to burn one with me. You suggest that you smoke in another area so we don’t get smoke into people’s faces. So now we have him in a comfortable state and in a area where you can talk to him about what is going on with his life in the way that talked about above.

    Any way I hope this brought up some insight into how we are dealing with PTSD.

  2. Richard says:

    MS, I think a lot of what you are talking about is depression which is not PTSD. I spent some time at the Vet drop in Centers after that war and I learned that the key word is the P word, Post. A lot of vets came home and were fine, got a job, maybe got married and started on their normal life back in the world. Months later when everything was good, it started, shit happening in their perifials, flashbacks, nightmares, moods, coming and going and went on for years for some vets. By the way just as we had to pay for our own memorial (the wall) we had to start and pay for our own drop-in centers for three years before our grateful government finally kicked in a few bucks. We called it Post tramatic stress SYNDROME, and not disorder. My very closest friend in this life committed suicide along with a lot of vets who were wasted in one car accidents and falls from high places and were never counted as suicides. My friends name is on the wall at the Viet Vets center in Detroit, we had to pay for that too. Remember when you get out they are done with you, you will spend a lot of time trying to get your government to remember what you are doing now, but they won’t. They will be too busy with the next invasion and occupation.

  3. masterspork says:

    Well the case I was referring to had moderate to considerable traumatic experiences due to combat conditions. This was not just the standard I miss home depression. (Honestly I do not think that there is a person that has been deployed that did not have mood swings)

    Well that is the reason that they are trying to address this now before it get out of control. I would not be surprised if these people where having trouble but kept up a normal front so that people would not worry about them. Also the way we viewed this then and now has change a lot. For example if you want to become a E-7 they no longer look down on you if you went to see mental health.

    But as far as vets taking care of each other I can believe it. That is why there has been veteran blogs and new groups to help veterans that are in need without using them as a political tool to get votes or other things.

    http://www.warriorlegacyfoundation.org/?page=About

    But You have to remember that a lot has changed since Vietnam and now medically. TBI is a very new concept that we did not even start screening for until a few years ago. As far as how we handled those that took their own lives and why we did not publish this is a matter of privacy that should be left up to the families to disclose.

    As far as the last sentence goes that is why Veterans should and do stick u for each other. I mean look at the Patriot Guards that go to countless funerals to make sure that those who have served get the honors they deserve. Also how they keep Fred Phelp’s trash away is also a example. Or how retired vets work at the uso. In the end it will be the vets that should look out for each other.

  4. Richard says:

    They don’t have to publish names or other medical or private matters matters but the numbers should be made public just as the body count is. Thousands of Viet vets committed suicide in non obvious ways. they too were killed by the war, they didn’t die until later, but still should be added to the causality list.

  5. masterspork says:

    Your talking about after they finished their service and committed suicide? I agree that is a problem but that is something that should be talked about because I think suicide is something that we as a whole do not want to talk about.

    How to fix the past I am not sure, I am trying to help the now as best I can,

  6. Fed Up says:

    And how about keepint a record of devastation of families, like drug addiction because two of my cousins came back from combat in Vietnam drug addicted.

    And how about related suicides? How many fathers and mothers killed themselves over the devastations of their sons?

  7. masterspork says:

    This is the military life. We can to everything that we can to prevent and treat drug use. We do everything we can help families cope with tragedy. But regardless of all this there will be people that despite all you do they will continue doing drugs.

    For example: Having to take one of my guys to the ER because he was having withdraws and no one told me about his drug past. Later I

  8. Pollyanna says:

    My friend Richard is well aware of the Honor Guards at veterans' and service members' funerals, although he hasn't mentioned it. This service, too, takes an emotional toll. The Honor Guard doesn't cry, you know. But they might need to, later, or otherwise address the grief they encounter in the course of duty.

    MSP, you seem kind of down on groups you perceive as

  9. Msp: I'm not saying you're using the term with malicious intent, but the expression "people like you" is not helpful. Dude, we may have very different views about how to deal with the problems of the world, but we have one thing in common: we care a lot and we want to make this crazy messed-up world a better place for all of us.

  10. masterspork says:

    My last comment was not aimed at Richard. Also sounds like we are talking about two different things. The Patriot Guards are the ones on bikes that are all former military that drive all over the country to take art in military funerals and other military events. I think you are talking about the active duity military members that do funeral duty.

    Ok one example of that I

  11. masterspork says:

    When drugs come into play I am referring to illegal drugs. I understand the arguments about Pot vs. Cigarettes but unless the military changes the view on pot then talking about it is not going to change things. Also I understand that it will increase heart rate but it is the buzz that helps reduce tension. Alcohol is also a big concern, the thing about it is because it is socially acceptable

  12. Pollyanna says:

    MSP — no need to apologize for spelling, bro; I wdn't mention it for you or Richard or anyone except where it may interfere with your clarity factor. Godnose I have made enough typos, some of them quite embarrassing, and spelling is not a respected art any longer.

    Telling it like you see it is the way to go. I hope some of the folks who've been directly involved at Under the

  13. masterspork says:

    Honestly I do not trust the people that run "Under the Hood". They seem to try to shoe horn in non-veteran related subjects. They were quick to blame PTSD and multiple tours as a reason for the shooting before the facts where known. It seems to be more about politics there.

    But there is no draft, they joined of their own free will. So because of that when someone goes AWOL or

  14. Richard says:

    I see that the Honor Guard and the bikers thing have gotten confused. I had Honor Guard duty for about three months when my ship was in drydock at Boston Naval Shipyard. I never worked a detail for a Combat Vet or an active duty sailor, (luck of the draw) Most were WWI and WWII vets whose families always appreicated the ceremony. I didn't have to contend with right wing religious nuts or

  15. Richard says:

    MS, Somehow I feel that your resistance to those of us who are in the anti-war movement is misplaced. I have not been to Under The Hood but I was frequently at the Oleo Strut, its manifestation in a previous life. Perhaps you don't see the a/w movement in a broad enough light. It is not a single minded group, but many, perhaps hundreds of groups who, want these pointless wars stopped for the

  16. masterspork says:

    Sorry about the late reply, I got caught up in some real world stuff.

    Considering their actions and stunts that they have done over the past decade why would you think that this is just unguided anger and frustration. I tried to post some examples of why I have a hard time viewing these guys seriously. Two examples:




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