Soldier Suicide Rate is Highest in 10 Years of War
DoD Reports 154 Suicides in First 155 Days of 2012
While soldiers with multiple combat tours commit more suicides, a substantial number are committed by soldiers who are never deployed. And the US economy -- which we could heal -- is partly why. This 2012 article is from the Associated Press, June 7.
by Robert BurnsSuicides are surging among America's troops, averaging nearly one a day this year -- the fastest pace in the nation's decade of war.
The 154 suicides for active-duty troops in the first 155 days of the year far outdistance the U.S. forces killed in action in Afghanistan -- about 50 percent more.
The military also is struggling with increased sexual assaults, alcohol abuse, domestic violence, and other misbehavior.
Because suicides had leveled off in 2010 and 2011, this year's upswing has caught some officials by surprise.
The reasons for the increase are not fully understood. Among explanations, studies have pointed to combat exposure, post-traumatic stress, misuse of prescription medications, and personal financial problems. Army data suggest soldiers with multiple combat tours are at greater risk of committing suicide, although a substantial proportion of Army suicides are committed by soldiers who never deployed.
The unpopular war in Afghanistan is winding down with the last combat troops scheduled to leave at the end of 2014. But this year has seen record numbers of soldiers being killed by Afghan troops, and there also have been several scandals involving U.S. troop misconduct.
The 2012 active-duty suicide total of 154 through June 3 compares to 130 in the same period last year, an 18 percent increase. This year's January-May total is up 25 percent from two years ago, and it is 16 percent ahead of the pace for 2009, which ended with the highest yearly total thus far.
Suicide totals have exceeded U.S. combat deaths in Afghanistan in earlier periods, including for the full years 2008 and 2009.
The numbers are rising among the 1.4 million active-duty military personnel despite years of effort to encourage troops to seek help with mental health problems. Many in the military believe that going for help is seen as a sign of weakness and thus a potential threat to advancement.
Jackie Garrick, head of a newly established Defense Suicide Prevention Office at the Pentagon, said, "We are seeing a high number of suicides at a point in time where we were expecting to see a lower number of suicides," adding that the weak U.S. economy may be confounding preventive efforts even as the pace of military deployments eases.
Dr. Stephen N. Xenakis, a retired Army brigadier general and a practicing psychiatrist, said he worries that many senior military officers do not grasp the nature of the suicide problem. A glaring example of that became public when a senior Army general recently told soldiers considering suicide to "act like an adult."
The Marines arguably have had the most success recently in lowering their suicide numbers, which are up slightly this year but are roughly in line with levels of the past four years. The Army's numbers also are up slightly. The Air Force has seen a spike, to 32 through June 3 compared to 23 at the same point last year. The Navy is slightly above its 10-year trend line but down a bit from 2011.
The suicide numbers began surging in 2006. They soared in 2009 and then leveled off before climbing again this year. The statistics include only active-duty troops, not veterans who returned to civilian life after fighting in Iraq or Afghanistan. Nor does the Pentagon's tally include non-mobilized National Guard or Reserve members.
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JJS: Some of my friends (not a scientific sample) joined the military because they could not find work, never mind start a business. Some of them reenlisted because when their time was up, the economy was still bad. So they chose to risk killing and being killed, rather than become unemployed or financially ignored by lenders and investors and become unable to support themselves and/or their family. Hence now they have that financial stress on top of the stress of being a cog in a killing machine. Which is what makes this an issue of economic justice.
In a just economy, people don’t have to turn to the military for work or customers (as do military contractors). More fundamentally, is war what governments should be spending so much public revenue on? Today’s wars are not making anyone any safer. They’re just making insiders in governments at home and abroad a lot, lot richer. Soldier suicide is another reason why belligerent policy comes at too high a price.
One reason people go to war, obviously, is for land. Other main reasons are economic: control resources, control trade routes, support a regime that oppresses its people so they’ll keep working for peanuts -- not very noble reasons. Yet all those economic goals can be attained without waging war but by adopting geonomics.
Following geonomic policy, people would pay land dues, which would take the profit out of speculation in land and resources, so their prices would tumble, and everyone could afford a parcel of their own. People would not pay taxes on their earnings or sales or buildings, so investors could profit sufficiently in their domestic market, fostering plenty of opportunity to find work or start a business. We’d have a vibrant peacetime economy.
And there are the psychological reasons. First, feeling materially secure, people could not be spooked so easily, so fewer would vote for war mongerers. Their politicians would have a harder time waging war and wasting public revenue.
Second, the icing on the cake: if a healthy portion of the land dues paid in came back to citizens as a dividend (a la Alaska’s oil dividend), then more people could feel a stronger tie to the land that supports them, feel more like an Earthling, and be able to see others as members of the same species and less like threatening foreigners.
As they say, if you want peace, work for justice. And if you want justice, work for geonomics. It has paved the way for peace wherever it has been tried.
Editor Jeffery J. Smith runs the Forum on Geonomics and helped prepare a course for the UN on geonomics. To take the “Land Rights” course, click here .
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