Thursday, January 31, 2008

Record Setting Suicides

Here is an interesting Washington Post article about the suicide of soldiers reaching record levels.

The article details a systematic study conducted by Col. Elspeth Cameron Ritchie, and it was found that:

"the current Army Suicide Prevention Program was not originally designed for a combat/deployment environment."

Now, this was not some New York Times hatchet job, this was based on a study ordered by the U. S. Army.

How on earth, after 6 (insert your favorite expletive here) YEARS OF WAR (counting the war in Afghanistan) can the Suicide Prevention Program NOT be designed for a "combat/deployment environment"? This is a statement that simply boggles my mind. This is a statement that should boggle EVERY American's mind.

The story goes on to quote a Staff Sgt. Gladys Santos, who says that "They gave me an 800 number to call if I needed help." To which she rightly replied: "When I come to feeling overwhelmed, I don't care about the 800 number. I want a one-on-one talk with a trained psychiatrist who's either been to war or understands war."

That sounds like a reasonable request to me Sgt Santos.

The story goes on to say:

"The Army was unprepared for the high number of suicides and cases of post-traumatic stress disorder among its troops, as the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan have continued far longer than anticipated. Many Army posts still do not offer enough individual counseling and some soldiers suffering psychological problems complain that they are stigmatized by commanders. Over the past year, four high-level commissions have recommended reforms and Congress has given the military hundreds of millions of dollars to improve its mental health care, but critics charge that significant progress has not been made."

This is what happens when you trust the likes of Paul Wolfowitz who tell you that the war is going to be easy and of short duration despite a lot of military and intelligence advice to the contrary.

Remember that General Shinseki told Congress that it would take several hundred thousand troops and several years to pacify Iraq, comments that great military thinker Wolfowitz characterized as "wildly off the mark".

This comment by a former Army Psychologist gets to the crux of the matter:

"Increasing suicides raise "real questions about whether you can have an Army this size with multiple deployments," said David Rudd, a former Army psychologist and chairman of the psychology department at Texas Tech University."

In past posts, I have struggled with the idea of why these problems have seemingly been accelerated (homelessness, drug and alcohol addiction, crime, etc) with Veterans of this war. I'm beginning to think that it has something to do with the idea that in World War II for example, the experience of the war was difused to literally millions of Americans during the period of war.

In the cases of Iraq and Afghanistan, the war has been borne by mostly the same thin slice of the population, sent repeatedly back to the war zone.

The article details efforts by the military and the government to grapple with the issue. I believe and have said repeatedly that there are good people who are working on these issues and who care. I know this because I know the type of people who serve in the military.
But I believe that the problem is going to get to a point where it may be unmanageable, especially since there is no end in sight to our current wars, and continual talk by the Presidential candidates and others about fomenting and instigating new wars.
The question we have to ask ourselves is how much more can we ask these good people to sacrifice. To hear those in Washington tell it, the answer is "until we win" - the War on Terror, the War in Iraq. That is all well and good, except for they are usually very non-specific on what that really means. But, it does sound good to the people back home.
I think - no, I KNOW, there is definitely a breaking point. There is a breaking point for this country financially. There is a breaking point with regard to military readiness (and this article details the military's unreadiness to protect against an attack on the homeland):
(as an interesting side note, the piece makes no mention or reference to the idea that 6 years of grinding war, utilizing the Guard and Reserve could have anything to do with these issues. They used them because "they are about 70 percent cheaper than active duty troops". The article makes you want to think that all of these issues "suddenly" cropped up and happened in a vacuum).
And, to me, most importantly, there is a breaking point of the soul of this country.
How close are we? I wish I knew, but I don't.

1 comment:

Vince Patton said...

right on Ralph!! Bravo!!