Saturday, May 26, 2012

The Shame of a Nation: Iraqi and Afghan War Veterans and Suicide

"In fact, the number of U.S. soldiers who have died by their own hand is now estimated to be greater than the number (6,460) who have died in combat in Afghanistan and Iraq. Eleven years of war in two operating theaters have taken a severe toll on America’s military. An estimated 2.3 million Americans have served in Iraq or Afghanistan, and 800,000 of those service members have been deployed multiple times."-Anthony Swofford, Newsweek

(photo: A Wounded Warrior Barracks for US Marines at Camp Pendelton in San Diego/ photo, May 2012, from The Daily Beast/Newsweek.)

Shocking report from last year on the tragedy of suicide among American Vets after they return home from Irag and Afghanistan. It s estimated that 18 veterans a day are committing suicide from PTSD and other combat-related diseases. The Veterans Administration and the courts and the public at large--many who do not have a relative or a spouse in this war, unlike previous wars like Vietnam, are not paying enough attention to this tragedy.


  1. this is horrible!!!!! I feel so sorry for all those vets that are home and those soon to be home and they cant even get the care they were promised. Sure go and fight for this country and then we will stick it to you when you return, if you return....thats a great way to repay those brave soldiers who gave their all to protect this country and all of us. I am ashamed of the Fed Govt to withhold treatment when they the vets are in such dire need of it right now, not 6 months down the road.

  2. It doesn't seem to be getting all that much better either, Marty, although I think the election should force politicians (you'd think) to cover this concern more thoroughly.

    I think our illustrious Rep. Greg Walden and a few others need to be reminded that just because we have an "all-volunteer" force (made up of poor kids and those from military families used to hardships) we can't forget these brave troops or make them scapegoats for mistakes made by the VA, The White House and Congress.

  3. I know Doug, the VA hospital up here in Roseburg...dang you should see it...its like a country club when you drive around the grounds, a golfing range and park like setting...but what the hell are they doing about the Vets that need help? Putting all their money that the Gov gives them into the nice lush lawns? I dont get it....and they are constantly grumbling about no money for this or for that yet they still have enough for the beautification of this place....makes me sick.

  4. We have to make them remember. Memorial Day would be the perfect day for the message to be given, but I don't suppose anyone will.

    Vice President Biden made an unexpected, emotional reference to suicide:

    "Vice President Joe Biden today delivered a deeply personal and, at times, emotional address to survivors of slain U.S. military service members, recounting his struggle with intense grief after his wife and daughter were killed in a car accident almost 40 years ago.
    "For the first time in my life, I understood how someone could consciously decide to commit suicide," Biden told a Washington gathering organized by the Tragedy Assistance Program for Survivors (TAPS), a non-profit advocacy group, to commemorate Memorial Day.
    "Not because they were deranged, not because they were nuts, because they'd been to the top of the mountain and they just knew in their heart they'd never get there again, that it was … never going to be that way ever again. That's how an awful lot of you feel."

    But he was talking to survivors. Many of us have been beating on the drum for a long, long time about the lack of care they get when they return. How long does it take, has it even begun?

    What kind of monsters send young men & women to unnecessary battlefields, (not wars, to face horrors, to death & dismemberment, & for those who return...who are deeply & psychologically wounded, turn the other way? Oh yes, there's a new crop to stud the green with white markers, or do suicidal deaths earn a respectable burial?

    What can we DO other than talk about it? Why are there no protesters out there? Has anyone seen any petitions? We should bombard the politicians from now until the end... United we still stand.

  5. Oh! The first time, I couldn't see the video because Adobe Flash Player refused to let me. Now I have. But we still need to put on as much pressure as we can....

  6. Yes, beautification---that's the last thing I'd want if I was on a waiting list for treatment.

    They spend money on making the place look good for the VIP visits I suppose. I notice that about big public hospitals as well--they look like Hilton Hotels in the lobbies and the waiting rooms and the landscaping. How much of all that "decor" is siphoned off from health care. Sounds like the Roseburg VA is no exception.

    I know there are good people who work for the VA, but they must be very frustrated. It seems we have fewer resources available for the soldiers and the airmen, marines, etc, once they are used up and on their own.

  7. You're right Lujica. Blogs and Facebook "likes" and all that is nice, but there needs to be more direct and personal contact to leaders...let them know that just because there isn't a draft and these wars are "winding down" doesn't mean citizens will look away from the tragedy and desperation of veterans and their families.

    It does look as if some vets are taking to the streets:

    It does seem like it literally takes a disaster--like the lack of space for wounded veterans at Walter Reed Hospital a few years back--before the government we pay for will investigate.

    I saw some of the VP's speech. Biden's remarks seemed heartfelt. But what is needed is an end to fighting unnecessary wars and a commitment to shared sacrifice by ALL strata of society to the wars in the future we as a nation have to fight.

  8. "Nearly 50 veterans...?" I'm talking about tens of thousands...& surely the friends & families of veterans would want to participate? Get the word out to THEM to put it together. Why haven't they thought of it themselves?

    Doug, as for Biden, I understood he was talking about his own loss of his wife & was heartfelt, but in no way addressed, or intended to address, "what is needed." Someone must start this off, & others will follow. I just wish I weren't wheelchair bound; I believe I could stir up quite a bit.

  9. An appalling state of affairs. War twists minds.

  10. It's a small start I'll grant that, Lujica.

    I'm sure you could stir things up. Of that I have no doubt.

  11. It sure does, Oakie. Which is why war is often so popular with the very young. Also with people are those that neverhear a shot fired at them.

  12. Yes, I met a couple of soldiers just before Afghanistan. The younger one was like a child in a toyshop. He couldn't wait to get stuck in. The older one (Been in Iraq the first time around) was more measured but still keen to do his job.
    But what is his job? They are trained to engage the enemy. Not sit around for months whilst, on the one hand nothing happens and on the other they could be attacked at any second. It is an incredibly stressful situation if we see stress as "the inability to fight or flight". They are stuck in a most frustrating limbo. It is no wonder they develop "Pre-traumatic stress".

  13. All wars are appalling killing young men and women for what? I just saw a picture parade of vet dogs and so many of them have been killed in the line of duty but most have died from old age or something that hurt their bodies. The atrocities of war hit everyone and not just our United States soldiers and I am sure all the other countries are tired of this shit and like France will be pulling out soon. I think we need to get our guys out NOW and not spend another day in those countries that dont want us there anyway. So many lives lost and for what? So the country can go back to killing its own again? What did we really accomplish in Iraq, nothing. Same will be in Afghanistan...a war fought but so much lost in life. if anyone is interested in seeing the k-9 made me cry.

  14. There does seem to be a equation of "tedium and terror" in war --to use a phrase from a speech by a famous Supreme Court Judge (and Civil War Vet) Oliver Wendell Holmes, Oakie. Recent wars like the NATO mission in Afghanistan must seem endless to those who must redeploy and redeploy. It raises an interesting question. Were we as humans ever intended to live in a constant and prolonged state of stress resulting from denying our basic survival impulses?

  15. I agree Marty.

    It's a sad reminder that even our bravest and most loyal friends are not immune from combat. Thanks for the moving link.

  16. "Tedium and terror" is a great phrase for the situation.

    Even cave men had breaks from stress. And animals in the wild could face a deathly situation at any minute but just forget about threats when they aren't around. The soldiers cannot forget as they have to be on alert, even when not on duty. Even more so when one of their own can break and start killing his own people.
    Constant stress produces permanently hightened levels of adrenalin and cortesone in the human body. This can make people very ill and end their life much earlier. Heart attacks and cancer are increased in their likelyhood and permanent depression and paranoia can kick in.
    Some stress is inevitable and may even be beneficial in our lives, but prolonged stress kills people. The best solution to stress is to change one's view of it. But I can't imagine that being too possible in a sustained war scenario.

    Shorter tours of duty and less of a war-mongering attitude from politicians, media and mega-patriots leading to less wars are two obvious improvements that can be made. We seem to learn something substantial from each conflict these days. The Gulf War showed the effectiveness of smart weapons and highlighted post-traumatic stress. This terror/tedium stress is a different thing and must become a lesson learnt for the sake of so many soldiers and their families, as your blog has demonstrated, Doug.

    I wonder though, if there have been very high numbers of sucides in relation to other conflicts that simply haven't had the same level of light shined upon them. The first Gulf War, for instance. Obviously Nam is well known for an emmense number of eventual suicides, but with such leadership failure it is so bad for everybody's morale that those in power must try everything to stop the true figures coming out.

  17. Sorry. Seems that none of my comments from yesterday posted.

  18. Thanks for bringing a lot more background on this terrible situation, Oakie. We never really know the toll that war will take on those involved , both civilian and military, but it's clear there are always those who try to keep the reality of a prolonged violent engagements and deployments as muted as possible.

    The official number of suicides from the American/Vietnam War is 9,000 but that figure--shocking as it is--I'll bet that's an under-count.

    You're right about stress of course. The mind can handle so much of it, and every individual is different of course but all people have a breaking point. I saw a documentary recently about the way a US Marine was readjusting to civilian life. His reintroduction to "normal" life was an difficult for him as being deployed to Iraq. There is also the "survivor's guilt" of those who never mentally leave the war or feel they should stay as long as comrades are still in their units and under threat from bombs and ambushes. Then there's that "warrior's attitude" that discourages any complaint and honors only heightened stoicism.

    Some of these denials and other-directed fears might be coping mechanisms in the short run, but there is no substitute for rest from constant alert.

    The psychologist Victor Frankel's book "Man's Search for Meaning" (about his experiences in a German concentration camp) dealt with the need to hold mentally unto something in ones past life that was personal and enriching. This would seem almost impossible but I remember his observation that those who brought some reason to persevere into their situations survived longer than others, if they were allowed to do so.

  19. Sorry Lujica. Another Multiply mishap.

  20. Hmmm. How many suicides were written off as "accidents" back home?

    I knew an ex-paratrooper who had been on tour in Troubled Ireland. One day, back in England, he was walking along with his wife and a car backfired. He instinctively threw his wife over a nearby fence and dived for cover. The fear buries itself so deeply for so long. He once lost a sargeant who trod on a mine. It was the kind that exploded when you took your foot off it. The man told his collegues to take cover and without hesitation took his foot off and was killed. My friend did seem to have "survivor's guilt" the way he told the story, but there was absolutely nothing anyone could have done. Maybe the politicians should feel more of it. It might make a difference.

    I think that the "warrior code" probably lends structure to an extent. Like it is a kind of faith. But even faith always ends in the end. Auchswitch, Sarajevo etc kills everybody's god sooner or later. Hell is where the devil rules all.

    The thing about coping mechanisms is that they should always be temporary. If they are not a profound residue of psychological fissures leaves a person permanently injured.

    I can see where Victor Frankel is coming from. Again, it is about faith and could be applied to life as a whole, not just the very worst parts of human existence. Lack of belief leaves one vulnerable to the universal twitches of fate. A strong belief, in anything, lends spine to our lives. Agnostics like myself have science, but it has so few answers that it does not begin to ease our inevitable human woes. Life becomes a rather pointless, meaningless, sequence of often unrelatted happenings. A determinist chatter before all becomes silent.

    For some reason, Catch 22 comes to mind.

  21. Yes, I think faith can be a rattlesnake if it's something that goes "beyond freedom and dignity", beyond good and evil" to borrow a phrase or two. Well put Oakie. I agree 100 %

    God, what a horror--we forget in America that so many soldiers from the UK and civilians in Belfast and other places had their own war in their backyard for so long.

    I remember a certain Irish pub I went into where there were they were collecting money for a group that had links to the IRA. I never went back. I'm sure both sides could make a case on the "Troubles" matter, but I wanted nothing to do with it and the more I read about the long history of it the more my ignorance would not go beyond the idea that Ireland had a Republic already and was as "free" as it was ever going to get. Anything else was just a standoff.

    The fact is that the only way to get people to stop fighting and talk peace is to...stop fighting and talk peace.

  22. Yes, Ireland was pretty unbelieveable. Seemingly so unnecessary. But the route of the Troubles is that pure racism that they call Sectarianism. The Northern Irish have managed to maintain a Medieval conflict that the rest of Europe has long forgotten, which should be rather embarrasing. The same nonsense also divides Glasgow as well, but the violence is more brawl than military there. As long as that hatred exists, so will the violence. Northern Ireland has come a long way and is much better than it was for so long. But the volcano has merely become temporarily dormant. It could errupt again.
    It is not fair for me to soley blame the Irish. British governments and media have often done exactly the wrong thing as well.

    Now those who tried so hard for peace on all sides have been rewarded, and I do believe that enough of a majority should guarentee a largely non-violent future over there. But many still hate with a passion.

    I believe that most of the funding for the IRA took place in the States. That says something about job opportunites in Ulster itself. Irish Catholics were economically disadvantaged (and will still be). Many of the IRA's volunteers claimed dole from the British government (The only case of an active enemy underwriting the costs of another enemy that I know of). Idle hands make the devil's work, so recruitment of personnel for them was usually pretty easy.

    I do however think that a key change in philosophy of many young Irish Catholics was the starting point for the Peace Process. There was a time when the IRA recruited bright young people. But changes in UK society meant that many started to gravitate away from the Cause to mainland education and employment in England. This meant that the recruitment pool began to dwindle down to the thugs and morons. How credible would that organisation be if it was no longer staffed by a "principled! troop? Because of this I think that it was actually the IRA who started the Peace Process. I believe that they made a proposal to the Unionists and the British government about four years before the process started.

    Indeed, an English friend of mine was in the IRA heartland those four years before and spoke to a couple of seemingly regular lads. He was later told that he had actually been talking to High Command, the very elite of the IRA.
    The conversation had been about music and sport, and just for a second, politics.
    "There will be an end to the troubles one way or another in the next five years!" And four years later there was.
    I believe that the IRA planned to offer peace terms (And compromise, as they have done, more than the other protagonists) or go out in a blaze of glory by attacking extremely high-profile targets in England, with extreme force.
    It seems to me that the writing was on the wall and even the IRA recognised that they were becoming and anachronism.
    Well, most of them anyway. The Continuity IRA still want to kill and still hate the peace (As does, Unionist opponet, the Red Hand Gang). But even in their own insipid nests there are enough disenters to marginalise them for the most part.

    You mentioned freedom. Irish Catholics used to call themselves Green Negros (Well, I improved the term slightly). And the Royal Ulster Constabularly was undoubtably as racist towards them as the police in the UK and parts of the US were to blacks. Though the IRA did kill a lot of the RUC, so one can understand a less than politically correct response. Nonetheless, sectarian police are no better than racist police. I'm pretty sure that it must be hard to feel free in a community where people will hate and even kill you for no other reason than your race.

    So yes, peace is the way through dialogue. And yes, I agree, it is always the best solution. After all, isn't that where all conflicts end up in the end. Shame people can't have the chat before the war rather than after.

    At least the internet means more accountable medias and less shadows for evil leaders to hide in these days.

  23. What an group of interesting anecdotes, Oakie. The brain drain finally brought the IRA to the peace table. Maybe someday there will be enough economic development in places like Egypt and Yemen to end some of the violence there.

    The IRA guys on the UK "dole" would be funny I suppose if there was not so much violence connected to it. Lots of young men without good jobs is a formula for mayhem.

    I found the whole Irish-British conflict in the 70's and 80's very strange. One of those intracable things that come from too much history and prejudice.

    That didn't mean I looked down on the British or the Irish; we had our own problems over here with the Vietnam War, racial desegregation, the abomidible treatment of Native-American tribes to name but three conflicts.

    And, being of Anglo and Celtic stock, there but for the grace of God went I on some side or another of some damn wall.

    My parents and I lived next door to a family called the O'Leary's. Once in a while I could hear their parents shouting over the side fence near my window late at night.

    I'd ask Tim at school the next day, "What were your folks arguing about that late?"

    "Northern Ireland, what else?" he'd say. "My brother Joey is in jail, remember? Danny (another brother) won't cut his hair and my sister Bernadine married some dirtbag. This gives them something to yell at each other about besides that crap."

    My parents argued over boring things when they infreguently went at it; I have to admit I was a bit jealous. At least politics was interesting compared to hearing disparaging remarks about in-laws. ;-)

    Tim's mom was the "veddy" English daughter of a London "bobby' and his dad was a Boston Irish-American----more Irish than the Irish as my dad used to say. Talk about the Orange and the Green! They met during the Second World War.

    Years later Tim went to England as part of a student exchange deal. He was over there a while, saw some of Ireland, too. I asked him if he had gone to Ulster. He shook his head, swore, and said "I went over there to study, Doug, not get my kneecaps shot off!"

    Rest his soul, Tim had an Irish wit.

  24. There are many ironies. One of the most positive is that your friend Tim would have been treated supremely well as the Irish are an extremely warm people outside of the conflict. My mate was English but he was with a family that were trusted, so he was in no danger. Had he been considered a spy or soldier he would certainly have been executed.
    Instead he was treated warmly and was bought drinks all night by complete strangers. This is something that has happened to everyone that I know who has been over to the Emerald Isle.

    Yes, there is nothing more Irish than an Irishman abroad. Hehe!

    The conflict in the 70s was appalling. No matter what the IRA did in England, there were murders by terrorists of both factions seemingly every week in Ulster itself. It truly was a civil war zone. The English got off relatively lightly by comparision.