Veteran Suicides Become a Public Health Issue
by: Katie Grimmer
October 22, 2012
“We’ve got 18 vets a day who are killing themselves in the United States,” Navy Admiral Mike Mullen announced to an audience just before it came out that there were 32 Marine Corps suicides this year as of July, already matching the total for all of last year. In that same month, 26 active army soldiers committed suicide, making it the highest since the army began reporting suicides in 2009.
In the Army alone, there were 116 suicides this year as of July, surpassing the number of deaths on the battlefield.
Last year the Veterans Administration treated almost 100,000 Iraq and Afghanistan veterans for post-traumatic stress disorder, according to Democracy Now!. In a 2010 investigation, NPR and ProPublica found that the Army health screenings missed 40 percent of soldiers with mild brain injuries in Fort Carson, one of the five military installations in and around Colorado Springs, CO.
Georg-Andreas Pogany, a retired Army sergeant and now a “veterans’ advocate,” explained in an interview that people get on a path that deteriorates their mental health. “[A]t some point in time, they are so compromised that, because of the emotional pain, possible physical pain, that they’re suffering, they see no other way out than to take their own lives.”
Pogany had a psychological breakdown while serving in Iraq in 2003 after he was given an anti-malaria drug. In the special operations community, twelve who were given that drug, including Pogany, suffered from auditory and visual hallucinations. Ten committed suicide.
Military suicides have risen drastically since the start of the Iraq war and even more so since the soldiers have come home. Time stated “nearly 22,000 troops were hospitalized with mental disorders last year, 54 percent more than in 2007.”
In another Fort Collins investigation, researchers asked 72 soldiers why they attempted suicide and with 33 options to choose from, everyone selected a desire to end intense emotional distress. USAToday said “other common reasons included the urge to end chronic sadness, a means of escaping people or a way to express desperation.”
The Defense Department has invested $110 million into military suicide prevention, including the recent $50 million for a large-scale study to prevent suicides and improve mental health. In a later interview, Mullen explained that part of the solution is leadership. “The most important ingredient is leadership: aggressive, focused, listening leadership,” he said. “Because … in the toughest situations, when nothing else seems to work, leadership breaks through.