The Associated Press obtained the Pentagon’s most recent data on suicides amongst active duty military personnel, and it shows that 154 troops took their own lives in the first 155 days of this year. That is a significant increase over the numbers for the past two years, and almost twice the number of troops killed in action in Afghanistan during the same time.
The numbers reflect a military that was unprepared for over a decade of ground war in Iraq and Afghanistan, with such a dearth of ground troops that 50-year-old National Guardsmen were being sent to serve in Iraq, and members of the regular military were being deployed repeatedly, without adequate downtime between deployments. The military is struggling with increased sexual assaults, alcohol abuse, domestic violence and other misbehavior, in addition to the suicides.
Dr. Stephen N. Xenakis, a retired Army brigadier general and a practicing psychiatrist, said, “It’s a sign in general of the stress the Army has been under over the 10 years of war,” he said in an interview. “We’ve seen before that these signs show up even more dramatically when the fighting seems to go down and the Army is returning to garrison.”
While the Pentagon and veterans organizations are working to fight the stigma of seeking help for PTSD and depression, to get help to service members and their families to avert these tragedies, it is an uphill battle… and some of the brass haven’t gotten the memo.
Maj. Gen. Dana Pittard, commander of the 1st Armored Division, last month retracted — but did not apologize for — a statement in his Army blog in January. He had written, “I have now come to the conclusion that suicide is an absolutely selfish act.” He also wrote, “”I am personally fed up with soldiers who are choosing to take their own lives so that others can clean up their mess. Be an adult, act like an adult, and deal with your real-life problems like the rest of us.” He did also counsel soldiers to seek help… after calling them irresponsible children.
His remarks drew a public rebuke from the Army, which called his assertions “clearly wrong.” Last week the chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, Army Gen. Martin Dempsey, said he disagrees with Pittard “in the strongest possible terms.”
Last month Defense Secretary Leon Panetta sent an internal memo to the Pentagon’s top civilian and military leaders in which he called suicide “one of the most complex and urgent problems” facing the Defense Department. “We must continue to fight to eliminate the stigma from those with post-traumatic stress and other mental health issues,” Panetta wrote, adding that commanders “cannot tolerate any actions that belittle, haze, humiliate or ostracize any individual, especially those who require or are responsibly seeking professional services.”
Take that, Maj. Gen. Dana Pittard. This civilian is your superior in the chain of command, and he has just instructed your immediate superior not to tolerate your kind of attitude. You might want to rethink that apology you haven’t written yet… before they decide that they really don’t want the 1st Armored Division in the hands of a Neanderthal anymore.
Please, if you are or you know a veteran or active duty service person who is struggling, get help. There are programs within the military and the VA where you can get help, anonymously. There are organizations like TAPS to help survivors. If you’re reading this you’re on a computer – use your search engine to find help nearby. IF YOU ARE IN CRISIS, KEEP READING.
I can’t read your mind to know why you feel the way you do, but I’ve been suicidal. Please, please, please remember that if you die, there will be a huge hole in the lives of the people who love you, for the rest of their lives. They will always ask themselves what they could have done to keep you from taking that last walk. They will always miss you.
Life may supremely, overwhelmingly suck today. It’ll probably still suck tomorrow. But I promise you that there will be a day when it won’t suck as much; if you hang in here, especially if you talk with someone who can help, there is going to be a day when it doesn’t suck at all.
I hung in there. Some days still suck, but here’s what I got for my reward:
I got to know my grandson, and see my daughter happy finally with a fine young man who loves her.
IF YOU ARE IN CRISIS
All the military and veteran sites I visited refer personnel in crisis to:
The National Suicide Prevention Lifeline
1-800-273-8255 press 1 for military/veterans
In Theater (Afghanistan and Kuwait) – 94-800-273-TALK (8255)
Other OCONUS – DSN Access Code + Country Code + 800-273-TALK (8255)
The Defense Center of Excellence (DCoE) – 1-866-966-1020