Thursday, October 28, 2010
US Military wonders: why so many suicides in the troops?
“Transitions” are the missing puzzle piece
Suicide is a profound act surrounded with sadness, desperation, loneliness, anger and unanswered questions. It is difficult to talk about personally and as a statistic.
Last night driving home from work I heard a special segment on NPR stating that the U.S. Military has been struggling to understand why so many soldiers are committing suicide. Now the Army has come up with a clue. Transitions. Apparently they found that 79% of suicides are committed in the first three years of service. And, the report said, besides the obvious factors of multiple deployments, and the stress of war, there seem to be no predictors of who is most at risk for suicide. Until now. "It's all about transitions,” the report said.
The report highlighted a mother who lost her 19 year old son to suicide when he was ordered to take home leave after being in Iraq for a couple of months. Connie Scott talked about her son, Brian Williams, arriving home at Christmas time to face his mother’s new house, her new husband, and his fiancée’s revelation that she was in love with someone else. Connie Scott said she could see that Brian was in terrible pain and at risk for suicide but she didn’t know what to do or how to help him. When he was set to return to Iraq, there was a sense of lightness about him, she said, and she felt relieved that he would be okay. But the next day he had taken his life. Maybe if he had stayed in Iraq with his buddies and not come home, his mother said, his buddies could have helped him with the loss of other soldiers he knew, and taken care of him. Then would have survived all the losses.
I believe his buddies would have taken care of Brian. But who knows what would have happened if Brian had not come home? The fact that he was sent home after two weeks in Iraq suggests to me that he had terrible experiences in the military and the military couldn't help him.
Suicides are horrific. But they are not The Problem. The problem is war. The destruction and desecration of everything that lives, cultures, infrastructures, land, air. Suicides are a symptom of this problem.
Does the military want to be able to predict who is at risk so they can stop suicides? Why? On the surface the answer seems obvious that they care for the troops. But I can't help thinking that it's public relations more than caring about the soldiers. PTSD (Post Traumatic Stress Disorder) has become a common word since the invasion and occupation of Iraq. Why is the military not talking about this as a problem? Why is the report being vague and euphemistic by calling the horrors of war “the stress of war?” Why did NPR not talk about the problems that war creates? Every man and woman who goes to the battlefields in Iraq and Afghanistan are at risk for PTSD and harming themselves and others.
As difficult as it is, we need to come out of denial about war; face the hideous realities of what these young women and men experience, what war is doing to their psyches and their souls, take stock of what our U.S. government is doing everyday around the world and speak up about it. The responsibility is ours. This means the media. The U.S. media needs to get a grip, get courage and lead the way. Let's focus on the real problem of war, and not pretend that fewer or smoother, or no transitions for a soldier will cure the symptom of taking one's own life, or that suicide is the problem.