In October of 2011 I was sleeping with a loaded .45 under my pillow, suffering from black outs, depressed, and contemplating suicide. This culminated with me almost losing everything including my marriage, my military, career, and my life. I was eventually meet with a cross road seek help in earnest, or lose everything.
Talk to any soldier and they will tell you they know at least two soldiers or more who have committed suicide. Dig a little deeper and that soldier may admit to you that he once contemplated suicide himself. I’m not ashamed to admit I also struggled with depression, and thoughts of suicide. There were wounds I brought back from Afghanistan that couldn’t be seen. My episode culminated in me almost losing everything I cared about including my sanity.
Soldier suicide hit an all time high during the year of 2012. Soldier suicide deaths in 2012 outpaced deaths over seas for that same year. This uptick was meet after the 2010 recruiting frenzy that saw lower standards due to deployment needs across all branches. It was later found that the army had allowed 47,000 soldiers to remain in the military even though they had substance abuse, misdemeanor crimes, and serious misconduct on there records.
According to a 2010 CDC report the civilian suicide rate was 12.1 per 100,000. The national guard suicide rate in 2012 was 30.8 per 100,000. The regular army suicide rate in 2012 was 22.7 per 100,000.
Michel Schoenbaum, PH.D. NIMH (National Institute of mental health) took a survey of suicide, and accidental death rates in relation to socio-demographics in the military between Jan-2004 thru Dec 2009. The study found that suicide rates not only increased throughout these year but that they even increased by those who hadn’t deployed. Also the study found that being deployed increased suicide risk for women, but that suicide risk remained lower for deployed women compared to deployed men. The study also found a correlation between suicide, and those that had been demoted in past two years. The data ultimately suggest that being a white male that was junior enlisted put you at the highest possible risk for suicide.
The response from Washington bureaucrats, and military brass initially was “just throw more money at it”. I think it is abundantly clear that the answer to this issue doesn’t lie in Washington. During my time of struggling with PTSD, depression, and disassociation I found myself surrounded with resources provided by the United States Army, and no real motive to access them till I was on the brink. This leaves the million dollar question what is it that is stopping soldiers from asking for help? The answer to that is the culture. The culture in the military is notoriously callus when it comes to those with mental health issues its no secret. Soldiers are often worried about being flagged for assignments, stagnation in career advancement or even discharge. Nobody wants to be that guy. The culture has everything to do with the individual soldier as it does with the habits of the military structurally. Some of these issues will work themselves out with the decrease in op tempo. The military still has some lasting questions they will need to address before moving forward. The answer from the military at this point has been to over medicate there mentally ill creating drug dependent class of veterans not seen since the Vietnam era. Couple that with the high veteran unemployment rate and you have a situation where were creating a permanent underclass of veterans.
22 veterans still die everyday due to suicide according to stopsoldiersuicide.com a veteran ran nonprofit on the front lines of dealing with veteran suicide. Suicide among veterans still account for triple the amount seen by there civilian counterparts. The issues faced by our veterans today won’t go away without a concerted effort by all of us to tackle these issues.