We all understand the ubiquitous phrase of supporting the troops. It has become synonymous with American politics and American culture. In fact, if the old adage - put your money where your heart is - means anything, then our federal budget places the military near and dear our heart.
And, yet, with the hundreds of billions of dollars pumping into our military industrial complex to support missions abroad and the current war in Iraq, Americans need to think about the human cost of empire.
And, keep in mind that this is not a polemic against the military or nation building.
When we send young men and women from various backgrounds to violent and perilous environments to defend, fight, and kill all in the name of national defense, what goes on in their psyche, their emotions, and their mind as they fight? Surely, we don't think these men and women are simply cut off - vacuous - from the emotional toll of death, destruction and despair?
Actually, research tells us that returning soldiers have greater risks for suicide, depression, anxiety, intimate partner violence, and so forth. Soldiers engaging in and returning from war - physically wounded or not - suffer mental wounds as well. I think our society tends to only concern itself with the physically wounded and simply expect soldiers to take it - man up if you will.
That attitude of ignoring the psychological is costing us an increasing suicide rate in Iraq by soldiers. In fact, suicide is the leading cause of non-combat death in Iraq and steadily rising. The military is also suggesting that next year could be the highest since it starting keeping records in 1980.
We all can do a little. First, talk to your military friends about how they are doing. Second, encourage them to seek help if they are feeling stressed. After all, its normal. Third, screen all military in Iraq and those coming home for increased mental health problems. Fourth, expand coverage by Insurance companies so the VAs aren't as overwhelmed. Fifth, let down traditional barriers to counseling and wellness.
Again, we must be vigilant about the human emotional cost of war. Unlike physical wounds, it remains unseen and suffered in silence.
On a related note, here's a CBS story about a soldier who attempted suicide twice, and the reason for the second attempt is heartbreaking:
Lt. Elizabeth Whiteside was admitted to the psychiatric lockdown ward at Walter Reed Army Medical center after trying to kill herself earlier this week, Martin reports.
"She took two weeks worth of medicines - four different medications... and she took them all at once," her father, Tom Whiteside, said.
He holds a note she left, reading in part: "I'm very disappointed with the Army."
He says her suicide attempt was brought on by the stress of waiting to find out if she would be court-martialed for an earlier attempt to kill herself....
She first tried to kill herself a year ago while serving in Iraq.
"I had a psychotic break and shot myself," she said. "I also ... discharged my weapon twice and put two bullets in the ceiling."
She told her story to Washington Post reporter Dana Priest, who was the first to report that the Army wanted to courtmarshall Whiteside for brandishing her weapon.
Said Priest: "Her commander said in the charges that he brought, 'I realize that people have said that you were mentally ill, but this is an excuse for your actions.'"
The hearing officer dismissed the charges, but that ruling had to be approved up the chain of command, and the Whitesides were left dangling.
Courtmartial for suicide?
Even almost 100 years after "shell shocked" soldiers were executed for "cowardice" during World War One...we STILL have a ways to go when destigmatizing signs of "personal weakness"!
Military Law (or Congress) needs to read more of the recent psychology literature. I mean, this IS 2008, after all.
I spoke to a soldier back from Iraq about a week or two ago, and he told me that about 17 people per day attempt. It's probably not being reported of course. I didn't believe him that it would be that high, and that *we* wouldn't know about it. But, the more that I listened to him, the more I believed.
This subject is near and dear to my heart. My grandfather was in Korea and has been diagnosed with PTSD related to this. He still suffers. There is a PTSD specialist at the VA here in Jackson that my grandfather visits due to symptoms he still exhibits. They determine what care and medicines he needs. I think his case is a very good example of how untreated PTSD can ruin a person's entire life.
I was reading an article the other day (I think it was on cnn.com) about PTSD and how some of the symptoms mimic TBI (Traumatic Brain Injuries). The army is attempting to blame PTSD symptoms on TBI's. Other than that, they tell the soldier their issues are "psychosomatic". This is heartbreaking for someone who KNOWS they are having issues, who wishes and has the courage to address these issues, but are not given the specialized treatment they require to overcome them.
I encourage everyone to watch the documentary "Alive Day" on HBO. One of the soldiers on there suffers from PTSD. His symptoms are extremely obvious during the interview. (I am a therapist that specializes in working with children with PTSD) It broke my heart. You could tell he was struggling with what he KNEW to be true going on in his brain, and what the army was telling him was "allowed" to be wrong with him.
My mother told me my grandfather's debriefings after killing several hundred people and seeing his best friend's head blown off in front of him was as in-depth as a commanding officer screaming "NO ONE IS GOING TO BE TRAUMATIZED BY THIS, ARE THEY?" in his face. That's a great use of debriefing.
In fact, in my training I've learned that the "model" the military SAYS they use for "debriefing" after an incident has been proven to re-traumatize the soldier. Overall, the army needs to change their thought processes around mental illness and change the therapeutic model of the way they "debrief" soldiers after a critical incident.
Critical Incident Debriefing done the proper way using a new model called a PTSM Coping Group (Post-Traumatic Stress Management) is one way they could do it. They could also screen their soldiers after deployment using one of several readily available PTSD indexes designed to gauge trauma symptoms and their severity. They could refer the soldiers exhibiting symptoms to a therapist that is trained in TF-CBT (Trauma-Focused Cognitive Behavioral Therapy) a model of therapy shown to reduce PTSD symptoms in as little as 12-16 weeks ...if used correctly.
ALL of these things are already being used in MISSISSIPPI with children in foster care who have experienced trauma and with victims of Hurricane Katrina. I think the "Greatest Military In The World" should be able to catch up.
They are light years behind in their assessment and treatment of mental illness brought on by combat. We, as humans, are not meant to see our friend's blown up. We are not meant to see streets littered with dead children. Our brain does not know how to process these events. It only sees "threat" and reacts accordingly. Their brain is technically trying to "save" them by giving them flashbacks of very deadly events. It is trying to remind them of where danger lies and places they should avoid in the future. It doesn't help that the bulk of our fighting force is under the age of 25 and does not have the coping skills necessary to handle these symptoms.
Unfortunately, if left unchecked, these very normal human reactions can then make day to day life too difficult to lead. I feel that the military carrys the blame for any soldier on the battle field that decides to take their own life. The military is desperately trying to play "catch up" in a field they should have been dominating for years. This stems from their own lack of planning and stubborn ideas about mental illness.
I hope for every soldier out there that they very quickly catch up.
- Lori G
Monkey and I lost his aunt to this in July last summer. She'd just come home from Iraq. I'm still processing. She was a very young, beautiful, hard-working and committed woman who was lost when she came home.
It is a huge loss for me, my son and our country.
i am heartened to hear all of the personal stories. keep them coming for everyone to read.
- John Sawyer
check out Rising Suicides
This was just posted on CNN.com
- John Sawyer
Saw this in the article:
According to Army statistics, the incidence of U.S. Army soldiers attempting suicide or inflicting injuries on themselves has skyrocketed in the nearly five years since the start of the Iraq war.
Last year's 2,100 attempted suicides -- an average of more than 5 per day -- compares with about 350 suicide attempts in 2002, the year before the war in Iraq began, according to the Army.
The figures also show the number of suicides by active-duty troops in 2007 may reach an all-time high when the statistics are finalized in March, Army officials said.
The Army lists 89 soldier deaths in 2007 as suicides and is investigating 32 more as possible suicides. Suicide rates already were up in 2006 with 102 deaths, compared with 87 in 2005.