Adm. Mike Mullen, chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff…predicted the toll this year will top the record of 2008, when the Army suffered 133 suicides. That was twice the number in 2004, before the Iraq and Afghanistan campaigns turned into a slog of repeated tours.So while getting wounded in battle gets a soldier a medal in the form of a Purple Heart, mental stress disorders are all too often treated like so many other mental illnesses — as something to be ashamed of.
About one in five (soldiers) returning home privately admit to post-traumatic stress disorders, but only half seek treatment. Soldiers fear their careers will be compromised if they reach out for help.
Those who saw the Academy Award winning movie Patton will remember the reenactment of the infamous slapping incident during World War II.
According to witnesses, General Patton was visiting patients at a military hospital in Sicily, and came upon a 24-year-old soldier named Charles H. Kuhl, who was weeping. Patton asked "What's the matter with you?" and the soldier replied, "It's my nerves, I guess. I can't stand shelling." Patton "thereupon burst into a rage" and "employing much profanity, he called the soldier a 'coward'" and ordered him back to the front. As a crowd gathered, including the hospital's commanding officer, the doctor who had admitted the soldier, and a nurse, Patton then "struck the youth in the rear of the head with the back of his hand". Reportedly, the nurse "made a dive toward Patton, but was pulled back by a doctor" and the commander intervened. Patton went to other patients, then returned and berated the soldier again.A lesser known but equally powerful movie The Outsider is a true story about Ira Hayes who became famous as one of the five Marines in the historic photo of the flag raising on Iwo Jima.
After the war, Hayes attempted to lead a normal life, unsuccessfully. "I kept getting hundreds of letters. And people would drive through the reservation, walk up to me and ask, 'Are you the Indian who raised the flag on Iwo Jima'?"But mental illness in our returning soldiers is a cause of a more common problem but one that we as a country should be no less ashamed of — homeless veterans.
Hayes accumulated a record of some fifty arrests for drunkenness. Referring to his alcoholism, he once said: "I was sick. I guess I was about to crack up thinking about all my good buddies. They were better men than me and they're not coming back — much less back to the White House, like me."
On January 24, 1955, Hayes was found dead, face down and lying in his own vomit and blood, near an abandoned hut close to his home on the Gila River Indian Reservation.
While the very nature of war has always been hard on soldiers, the Iraq War has been especially hard on our troops due to the multiple deployments that many of them have had to endure.
Although accurate numbers are impossible to come by -- no one keeps national records on homeless veterans -- the VA estimates that 154,000 veterans are homeless on any given night. And approximately twice that many experience homelessness over the course of a year.
The vast majority are single, most come from poor, disadvantaged communities, 45% suffer from mental illness, and half have substance abuse problems.
In addition to the complex set of factors affecting all homelessness -- extreme shortage of affordable housing, livable income, and access to health care -- a large number of displaced and at-risk veterans live with lingering effects of Post Traumatic Stress Disorder and substance abuse, compounded by a lack of family and social support networks.
The head of a Iraq war veterans group pegged "multiple deployments" as a culprit (in the rise of suicides), and told MSNBC that it shouldn't be surprising, but the military seems to be grasping for answers.It is certainly difficult to adapt to the change from civilian life to a war zone. And it can be just as hard to adapt back to civilian life after serving in a war. But with multiple deployments requiring adapting back and forth multiple times, is it any wonder that the strain of this has taken its toll — not only on the soldiers, but on their marriages and children?
This is the first time in the US that an all-volunteer armed forces has been asked to fight wars (in Iraq and Afghanistan) on such a scale. Insufficient numbers of recruits to maintain the troop levels being used there has resulted in the need for these disastrous multiple redeployments.
But the all-volunteer military has had an unintended consequence of promoting complacency on how our military is being treated. Back during the Vietnam War when sons, husbands, and boyfriends were being drafted to serve there, many more people were actively involved in whether we should have even been there along with how these people were being treated. Many people marched in the streets and said “Hell no, we won’t go!” and burned their draft cards.
Today there is less guilt by many about sending people to fight our wars like in Iraq. The thinking is that these people volunteered so they will be OK as long as they aren’t one of the roughly 4,300 that have been killed. But even for many of those who have returned without physical injury, they have paid a huge price in the way of mental injury, perhaps leading to divorce or homelessness — or even suicide.
We need to lose this complacency! We need to insist that our military puts in the proper mental health care resources for our returning soldiers. This means screening all of our returning soldiers from war for mental health issues and providing real help in the way of caring mental health professionals and social workers for those who need it — and not just by prescribing pills as some have charged.
We hear so many times from politicians when talking to or about our military personnel that they "Salute Our Troops". That all sounds nice but we need to do more. Of course we need to care about those who have died fighting our wars. But we also need to care at least as much for the living who have returned from battle changed and need our help to go on with their lives!