“PROSE”: “the ordinary language people use in speaking or writing.” -Merriam Webster
***This 5-minute clip from a James Gandolfini/HBO documentary begins at minute 34:41 – 39:53 and is excerpted from John Alpert, Ellen Goosenberg Kent, and Matthew O’Neill with James Gandolfini, WARTORN: 1861-2010. HBO 2011; accessed at The Documentary Dude as published on YouTube on May 16, 2016.
Yochi Dreazen is the author of The Invisible Front: Love and Loss in an Era of Endless War. Here’s an excerpt from an opinion piece that appeared in The Washington Post on November 7, 2014:
Jeremy Sears, a Marine who had served multiple tours in Iraq and Afghanistan, walked onto a shooting range outside San Diego on Oct. 6, placed a handgun to his head and calmly pulled the trigger. It was a local news story but didn’t attract attention outside San Diego for the most tragic of reasons. Military suicides have become so common — since 2001, more active-duty U.S. troops have killed themselves than have been killed in Afghanistan, and suicides among reservists and National Guard members are spiking — that they are now background noise to many Americans, unpleasant reminders of wars most of us have forgotten about. But we won’t be able to solve the problem until we understand it. Let’s get rid of some myths.
“Repeated tours through the war zones of Iraq and Afghanistan are often cited as a primary reason so many troops take their own lives. But the statistics don’t support that explanation. A 2013 study published in the Journal of the American Medical Association found that longer deployments, multiple deployments and combat experience didn’t elevate suicide risk. In fact, more than half the troops who had taken their lives had never deployed. A separate, massive Army study found that, while suicide rates for soldiers who had deployed to Iraq or Afghanistan more than doubled from 2004 to 2009, the rate for those who had never spent time in the war zones nearly tripled.
Since military suicides began increasing dramatically around the onset of the Afghanistan and Iraq wars, there had been some hope that the numbers would come down once those wars were over. But the last U.S. combat forces left Iraq at the end of 2011, and the drawdown in Afghanistan is well under way. And yet the suicide rate within the military is holding steady. The number of active-duty suicides in 2013 dropped by 19 percent compared with 2012, but 2014 has seen them inch back up. This year, the military had lost 161 active-duty troops to suicide as of July, the most recent data available, compared with 154 during the same six-month time period in 2013. The numbers for the citizen-soldiers of the reserves and the National Guard have been even more dire, climbing 8 percent from 2012 to 2013, from 203 to 220. Gen. Ray Odierno, the Army chief of staff, told me in an interview, “I don’t think we’ve hit the top yet on suicides.”
. . .
Military culture has often derided soldiers suffering from PTSD or depression as cowards or worse. One unit at Colorado’s Fort Carson left mock forms titled “Hurt Feelings Report” near a sheet where troops sign out to see doctors. The document began, “Reasons for filing this report” and offered choices including “I am thin skinned,” “I am a cry baby” and “I want my mommy.”
The anonymous author might be surprised to know that Navy SEALs, Army Rangers and other elite troops from the military’s secretive Special Operations community are also killing themselves at record rates. Adm. William McRaven, who oversees those forces, said in April that he was worried about the well-being of his men — troops specially selected for their mental and physical toughness. “My soldiers have been fighting now for 12, 13 years in hard combat. Hard combat. And anybody that has spent any time in this war has been changed by it. It’s that simple,” McRaven told a conference in Tampa.
Mr. Dreazen’s complete opinion piece is available at:
An adapted excerpt from Mr. Dreazen’s book appears in Foreign Policy as “Tour of Duty: Ty Carter fought in Afghanistan and became a hero: now he has one more enemy to fight: PTSD.” https://foreignpolicy.com/2014/10/06/suicide-mission/
June 2018: VA clarifies its suicide statistics
A Stars and Stripes article posted June 25, 2018 on the blog of Special Forces Association Chapter IX suggests that the VA’s reporting of its suicide data has lacked precision:
For years, the Department of Veterans Affairs reported an average of 20 veterans died by suicide every day – an often-cited statistic that raised alarm nationwide about the rate of veteran suicide. However, the statistic has long been misunderstood, according to a report released this week. The VA has now revealed the average daily number of veteran suicides has always included deaths of active-duty service members and members of the National Guard and Reserve, not just veterans.
Craig Bryan, a psychologist and leader of the National Center for Veterans Studies, said the new information could now help advocates in the fight against military and veteran suicide. “The key message is that suicides are elevated among those who have ever served,” Bryan said. “The benefit of separating out subgroups is that it can help us identify higher risk subgroups of the whole, which may be able to help us determine where and how to best focus resources.”
The VA released its newest National Suicide Data Report on Monday, which includes data from 2005 through 2015. Much in the report remained unchanged from two years ago, when the VA reported suicide statistics through 2014. Veteran suicide rates are still higher than the rest of the population, particularly among women. In both reports, the VA said an average of 20 veterans succumbed to suicide every day. In its newest version, the VA was more specific.
The report shows the total is 20.6 suicides every day. Of those, 16.8 were veterans and 3.8 were active-duty service members, guardsmen and reservists, the report states. That amounts to 6,132 veterans and 1,387 service members who died by suicide in one year. The VA’s 2012 report stated 22 veterans succumbed to suicide every day – a number that’s still often cited incorrectly. That number also included active-duty troops, Guard and Reserve, VA Press Secretary Curt Cashour said Wednesday.
The VA encourages those who need help to reach out: “Veterans, Service members, and their loved ones can call 1-800-273-8255 and Press 1, send a text message to 838255, or chat online to receive free, confidential support 24 hours a day, 7 days a week, 365 days a year, even if they are not registered with VA or enrolled in VA health care.” https://www.mentalhealth.va.gov/suicide_prevention/
(Featured image courtesy of Oliver Munday for The Washington Post. accompanied Nov. 7 2014 op ed by Yochi Dreazen.)
Charles Bloeser is the creator of combatresearchandprose.com, an open-source applied research initiative that will continue to do its part to contribute to bridging the gap in experience, knowledge, and understanding that divides those who’ve never served under arms from those who have. He’s the civilian son and grandson of veterans and a lawyer who’s spent most years arguing criminal and constitutional issues in America’s state and federal trial and appellate courts. Among his published research are works re Libyan-supported Jihadi terrorism in the Western Hemisphere, civilian-military law enforcement relations in the U.S., and the demands that an increasingly complex national security environment make for SOF forces. His research agenda includes national security/defense/veterans issues, with special attention to those facing challenges from combat stress/PTSD/TBI etc.