The U.S. military’s toughest opponent
by Kelvin Wade
Possibly 20 active duty American soldiers killed themselves last month. And up to 166 may have taken their lives this year. If confirmed, that’s more than last year’s 165 confirmed suicides. The Army has seen an epidemic of suicide. Military-wide in the past dozen years 2,676 active duty men and women have taken their lives. If we add in veterans according to the Department of Veteran Affairs, over 6500 military personnel have killed themselves since the Afghanistan and Iraq wars began.
For every soldier killed in combat, 25 veterans take their lives.
The first thing we must do is never to send our men and women into harm’s way unless it’s absolutely necessary. Clearly the Iraq war was a war of choice. In no way did Saddam Hussein pose a threat to the United States. He was a brutal dictator but that’s not the standard we use to level an attack. Islam Karimov, our ally in Uzbekistan, regularly tortures his enemies and boils them alive. Recent reports are that he’s switched from boiling to freezing people. He’s our friend and is collecting aid from your tax dollars right now.
So it’s a no-brainer that we need to get out of Afghanistan, like, yesterday. Al Qaeda is shattered. Osama Bin Laden is fish food. “Mission accomplished.” A recent news story floated the idea of leaving thousands of troops in that war-torn hellhole past 2014. Tell the Congress and the President “hell no.”
The second thing we must do is never send our men and women into combat without all the means necessary to protect them and help them win. It’s a forgotten story how our soldiers went into battle in Iraq without body armor and families had to buy their own. We sent them into battle initially without up-armored vehicles to withstand IEDs. We sent them into battle with Marquis of Queensbury rules of engagement.
The third thing we must do is open our wallets and fully fund VA hospitals including an emphasis on mental health. Mental disorders were the number one cause of hospitalizations in the military last year, with over 22,000 troops hospitalized. This shouldn’t catch us off guard. We know the lingering, debilitating effects of combat and we have to be prepared as a society to care for our soldiers when they come home.
One of the worst things we can do is prosecute failed suicide attempts. Currently, attempted suicide is a criminal offense under the Uniform Code of Military Justice and while not widespread, prosecutions do happen. All prosecution is going to do is encourage those attempting to take their lives to use more lethal means so they don’t survive. Society has moved away from treating suicidal people as criminals. The military needs to do so as well.
Intervention works. It’s not true that a suicidal person will ultimately complete suicide. Far more people are suicidal and even attempt suicide than complete it. And we’re a better nation than to slap magnets on our cars, cheer the troops onto battle and leave them to blow their brains out when they come home.
Of course, suicide is a problem in the general population. More people commit suicide than are murdered in the United States every year. So, some of the military suicides would’ve occurred whether that soldier had been in the military or not, deployed or not. But the increase since the Iraq and Afghanistan wars are clearly related to the horrors of those extended conflicts. One might blame stop-loss orders that prevented soldiers from leaving the military. One might blame the repeat deployments to war zones in our never-ending wars.
But these deaths aren’t separate from what happens on the battlefield. A soldier suffering from PTSD after multiple deployments who comes home and kills him/herself is another casualty of war.
General Lloyd Austin, the army’s vice chief of staff, recently said, ”Suicide is the toughest enemy I have faced in my 37 years in the army.” If that’s the case, I want to see our leadership bringing resources to bear against this enemy. I want to see Congress pull that Benghazi stick out of their ass and focus on something that’s taking our soldier’s lives in greater numbers than Al Qaeda and the Taliban combined.
Let’s fight this enemy. Or stop saying we support the troops.