Across the Heartland, U.S. Military Suicides Spike

From Ohio to Texas, newspapers around the United States are running local stories on a surge in suicides and trauma involving members of the U.S. military.

The Cleveland Plain Dealer is looking at the apparent suicide of Army Pvt. Keiffer Wilhelm. At Fort Hood, in Texas, multiple soldiers have committed suicide every year since the Iraq war began, the Austin American Statesman reports. The Indianapolis Star did a four-part series in September that detailed how Sgt. Jacob Blaylock took his own life.

These aren't just anecdotal reports. In 2008 there were 256 suicides in the U.S. military -- and more than half of those were in the Army, the BBC reports.

More than the highest number of military suicides since 1980, when the data was first tracked; it also marks the first time the military suicide rate is higher than that of the general population, according to the Defense Department.

Back on the home front, aggression gone AWOL can also turn outwards -- as happened to Anthony Marquez of Colorado Springs, in an oft-cited story by the Colorado Springs Gazette.

Marquez was the first infantry soldier in his brigade to murder someone after returning from Iraq -- but he wasn't the last. Ten members of his 4th Infantry Division's 4th Brigade Combat Team have been arrested and accused of murder, attempted murder or manslaughter since 2006, the newspaper reports.

What's gone wrong for those who have served in our 20th and 21st century wars?

David Rudd, Texas Tech University professor and an expert on military suicide, told both The Kansas City Pitch that the military mentality of never acknowledging weakness or the need for help can contribute to despair or aggressiveness, and lead in turn to suicide or violent acts.

A 2008 Rand Corporation study found more than 300,000 military service members -- one out of every five who served in Iraq or Afghanistan -- reported symptoms of post-traumatic stress disorder or depression.

Yet only half said they had sought help -- which is, by some reckonings, ever-more available.

The Veterans Administration launched a suicide hotline in 2007 that took in more than 100,000 calls in its first eight months, notes Partnership for a Secure America, while September 6 kicks off the Department of Defense' Suicide Awareness Week, as well as the U.S. Army's Suicide Prevention Month.

Meanwhile, the National Institute of Mental Health is preparing a $50 million, five-year study of military suicides involving hundreds of thousands of soldiers and new recruits.

Yet all these efforts came to naught for Iraq war veteran Kevin Rodrick.

A few days after he took his own life, the Wisconsin State Journal reports that his mother received a postcard in the mail saying he was due for a psychiatric evaluation.

--Ronnie Lovler/Newsdesk.org

Sources:

"Endless war: the suicide of the United States"
E News Park Forest, August 20, 2009

"Still at war, the army opens a new front against soldier suicide"
Kansas City Pitch, August 25, 2009

"Evidence-Based Prevention is Goal of Largest Ever Study of Suicide in the Military"
National Institute of Mental Health, July 16, 2009

"Suicides: a growing problem for military"
Madison.com, August 25, 2009

"U.S. Army seeks to stem suicides"
BBC, September 6, 2009

"Task-force to examine suicide prevention programs"
Office of the secretary of defense, public affairs, September 4, 2009

"Day 4: where's the line between people's rights and enforcing help"
Indianapolis Star, September 2, 2009

"As suicides rise, military intensifies prevention efforts"
Cleveland Plain Dealer, August 29, 2009

"Wisconsin National Guard takes part in suicide prevention week"
Examiner.com, September 1, 2009

"One In Five Iraq and Afghanistan Veterans Suffer from PTSD or Major Depression"
Rand Corporation news release, April 17, 2008

"General focuses on well being of soldiers, families"
Austin-American Statesman, August 16 2009

"When Stress becomes fatal"
Partnership for a secure America, September 1, 2009

"Casualties of War, Part I: The hell of war comes home"
Colorado Springs Gazette, July 26, 2009

2 thoughts on “Across the Heartland, U.S. Military Suicides Spike

  1. First, please allow the following disclosures. I am the Executive Director of Independent Arts & Media the parent organization of Newsdesk.org. As an organization we do not contribute editorially to any of our fiscally sponsored projects. I am also a veteran and served for 9 years in the U.S. Army.

    I can’t stress enough how important this type of news is. As a veteran I understand how hard it is to relay our post war trials and challenges. But, I also want to point out that publishing an overview type article of this kind, tends to paint with too broad of a stroke, so much so that the soldier becomes objectified as opposed to personified.

    Without adequate context, such as what the population of a Division is, (approximately 30-35K soldiers) and what the military occupational makeup of that Division consists of, (support or combat or a combination of both) and whether or not those soldiers had a previous record of violence be it domestic or otherwise, the story can be considered negligent and anecdotal, contributing to stereotypes that become obstacles for genuine understanding. The use of the term AWOL for example is the mistranslated equivalent of using the word unreliable or derelict in place of insane.

    The life and culture of the military is extraordinarily complex, and as important as it is to attempt to explain our plight, doing so in a simplified manner is a disservice to all those who serve.

  2. To Clarisa,
    I agree with most of what you say in your response. I have been in my lifetime, both an infantry soldier and an airman in the USAF version of special ops (combat control team member, 1965-1969). Granted, my times with the military are distant in my life. However I still carry that tremendous feelig of fellowship that being a veteran incurs. I did not get the impression completely that you did from the article. I do agree that military suicides are on the increase, and I thought the author was spot on with his statement that refers to the individual member feeling disoriented when it comes to what is going on internally with him/her, as opposed to the training received that inculcates a strong sense of internalizing emotion. In many cases, it used to be a career buster for a soldier to see a chaplain, or therapist, particularly if the individual had to work through the chain of command to get to that point. I think a lot of that is changing, from what I read lately? The article for me provides a jumping off point, to further investigate this important subject. Even way back when I wondered why the military in outprocessing a soldier from the service did not provide some, even rudimentary, response to integrating into the civilian world. If this was in place, my comrades and myself never experienced it. Returned from SEA, get a mandatory haircut, get a bus to the main gate, see ya!
    A question for you, I always understood that most Army and Marine divisions were about 7,000 – 10,000 unit members in size? Your number of 35,000 seems a bit high? Even with attached support units, most units rarely exceeded that 10,000 mark. When did this change?

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