More Soldiers Die from Suicide Than from Combat In Afghanistan
September 27, 2012 • 11:17PM

The suicide rate in the US Army and the Marine Corps is spiking up to unheard of levels, yet neither service understands why it's happening. Perhaps they should ask retired Col. Larry Wilkerson, who said at a Nov. 21 press conference sponsored by Rep. Walter Jones (R-N.C.) that "One of the reasons is because we lowered the requirements so far, that we took 100,000 troops who failed psychological examinations, multiple times, before we put them in the Army or the Marine Corps. It's not the only reason. Deployments, excessive deployments, frequent deployments, a really nasty battlefield, and other things have contributed to that. But we, as Americans, I think—and I am!—should be ashamed to have allowed this to happen. And it's all happened because of what Congressman Jones is pointing at: the facility with which the President of the United States can take this apathetic nation to war, and kill people!"

Suicide in the military may one day be understood by future military historians (if there are any) to have been the "canary in the coal mine" when it comes to the long term effects of allowing an out-of-control Presidency the ability to wage unending wars of occupation and regime change in poor, far away countries. Historically, the suicide rate in the US military was half that of the civilian population rate of about 20 suicides per 100,000 population, but now, in the US Army, at least, it's about fifty percent higher, with no sign of any reversal. From January to August of this year, the Army reported 132 suspected or confirmed suicides in its active duty ranks, and another 80 among Reserve and National Guard troops who were not on active duty. This compares to 171 soldiers killed in action in Afghanistan for the same time period. Twenty eight soldiers committed suicide in July alone, and the Army, after years of grappling with the problem, still has no idea why its happening. "Why has it spiked this year? Is it because we’re coming down off the number of deployments? Does it have to do with soldiers who had existing problems, problems that weren’t taken care of? We don’t know," Army Chief of Staff Gen. Ray Odierno told the Army Times, this week, in an interview. "It’s something that we keep trying to figure out, but we don’t know the answer yet."

Today, the Army is taking a service-wide stand down to consider the problem. All soldiers in the Army, except those involved in critical combat, security and medical duties, will stop whatever they are doing to engage in training on the myriad programs available to them from which they can seek help, and on addressing the problem of stigma, which prevents people from seeking help when they need it most. Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff Gen. Martin Dempsey told Armed Forces Press Service that it’s important for people who feel overstressed to realize that it’s OK to feel that way. But it’s also important for them to "understand the number of programs that are … available to help young men and women make their way through the different stresses in their lives."

But not only is the rate rising, but the trends are changing as well. In earlier years, Army officials pointed to figures showing that most soldiers who committed suicide had either never deployed or had deployed once (some were on their first deployment when they took their lives), to suggest that repeated combat exposures had little to do with the problem. Now, more soldiers and noncommissioned officers with multiple combat deployments are attempting suicide. "We’re now seeing that population makes up 63 percent [of deaths] and we’ve seen almost a doubling in the percentage of soldiers with two and three deployments who had died by suicide, " Bruce Shahbaz, special assistant to the Army director of health promotion, risk reduction and suicide prevention, told the Army Times. Even more troubling, about 75 percent of those who attempted suicide were seen in the outpatient medical system within 30 days before their suicide attempt.

The suicide rate in the Marine Corps is lower than that of the Army, but nonetheless is also heading in the wrong direction. Earlier this month, the Marines reported 39 suicides through August of this year, exceeding the 32 reported in all of last year, and on track to equal or exceed the peak of 52 reported in 2009. Marine leaders didn't comment on the report when it was released, but that service is also grappling the same issues of combat and deployment stress, stigma and psychological issues that the Army is dealing with.

Most measures recommended and taken to deal with the problem involve expanding the mental health services available to military personnel, training that addresses recognizing the warning signs of a potential and reducing stigma of seeking help and service leaders taking responsibility for the problem from the top. But none of these measures will have more than minor, ameliatory effects, until the out-of-control presidency of Barack Obama is Constitutionally removed from office once and for all, and the United States is put back on the path of defending the national sovereignty of all nations, instead of waging suicidal wars of destruction on behalf of the British Empire.