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Who is Killing Our Veterans?

All Posts  August 21 2008
 — By Scott Lee

…in the coming years we are going to see a growing trend in veterans suicide. On Nov. 13, 2007 CBS reported:

“Veterans aged 20 through 24, those who have served during the war on terror. They had the highest suicide rate among all veterans, estimated between two and four times higher than civilians the same age. (The suicide rate for non-veterans is 8.3 per 100,000, while the rate for veterans was found to be between 22.9 and 31.9 per 100,000.)”

This is just the beginning, the Iraqi veterans have been exposed to unprecedented levels of sustained combat. Never before in the American history of War have our soldiers seen three and four tours of combat as a common experience.

Penny Coleman, author of Flashback: Posttraumatic Stress Disorder, Suicide, and the Lessons of War testified before the House Committee on Veterans’ Affairs on December 12, 2007,

“My name is Penny Coleman. I am the widow of Daniel O’Donnell, a Vietnam veteran who came home from his war with what is now known as PTSD and subsequently took his own life. I use the term PTSD grudgingly—it is the official term, but it is deeply problematic. My husband did not have a disorder. He had an injury that was a direct result of his combat experience in Vietnam. Calling it a disorder is dangerous; it reinforces the idea that a traumatically injured soldier is defective, and that idea is precisely the stigma that keeps soldiers from asking for help when they need it.”

She goes on to report that more than 6256 veteran commit suicide a year.

Over 30 years have passed since the Vietnam War ended, since then more than 180,000 veteran deaths have been attributed to suicide. 300,000 Iraq & Afghanistan veterans suffer from mental illness. 58,000 names emblazon the black granite in Washington D.C. at the Vietnam Memorial Wall, one third the amount of veteran’s deaths attributed to suicide.

The VA system is poorly underfunded and not ready to take on such a high level of veterans needing mental health care…as we will see in the next 10-20 years.

(17) Readers Comments

  1. RG:

    Those folks who evidence success in Iraq by pointing out that fewer than 5,000 soldiers have died there (as compared to Vietnam or WWI and II) are fixing to have their little fantasy-worlds rocked when we as a nation start to truly appreciate the magnitude of the mental and physical injuries that occurred instead!

  2. “Never before in the American history of War have our soldiers seen three and four tours of combat as a common experience.”

    I don’t understand how this is possible. Our Soldiers are doing, at worst, 15 month deployments. Except in rare circumstances, these deployments are only accented by heavy fighting and not a sustained incident. During World War II, Soldiers were deployed for YEARS of sustained fighting, accented by down times.

    CF,

    The fact is that the number of troops killed in Iraq IS an evidence of success in Iraq. The per capita death rate compared to every other American conflict is dramatically lower, thanks to improved medical care and technology that protects our troops. Because there are more survivors, naturally there are going to be more affected by their combat experiences. The fact that Soldiers die, get wounded, or sustain mental injuries is not a disqualification for the necessity of war.

    It IS, however, a factor that MUST be weighed in any decision to go to war. This is a good reason why there should be more veterans in elected offices – to prevent the ho-hum act of dedicated troops to fight and sacrifice for their country when were unwilling to do so themselves. The cost of war goes far beyond the monetary expenses.

    I think that another factor in determining the need for war or dedicating combat troops to an operation is the VA system. The VA system should never have to play catch-up with a war, but it happens EVERY SINGLE TIME!! If the VA system is ill-equipped to deal with the mentally traumatic results of putting human beings into combat, the decision to send them should be rethought again and again, almost as a prerequisite.

    War is hell and unless you’ve been there, CF, you truly know nothing about it except as it relates to a political talking point or agenda. Our troops, injured or not, should not be used as pawns.

  3. CF, right on brother. The cases of PTSD and other mental illness due to combat in OIF/OEF will explode to levels we have never seen before in the history of US warfare.

    I have detailed this in another article on my blog at; PTSD, A Soldier’s Perspective:

    http://ptsdasoldiersperspective.blogspot.com/2008/08/mental-health-epidemic.html

  4. CJ, his motives may not agree with you, but his premise is correct in the fact of lower casualties as reasons stated by yourself and in my post on my blog with link above.

    15 month deployments for many soldiers, and two to three tours as a common experience. Ask yourself how many troops and veteran do you know that have had multiple tours of duty in OIF/OEF?

    In WWII, Korea, and Vietnam a higher percentage of troops did only one tour of TWO years with significant down time in between engagements. CJ, please forgive me, but, how much down time did you get during your tours? Or between tours of duty? How many soldiers do you know that had to go back sooner than a year?

    None of this was common in previous wars, yes they served two years on average. But they had significantly more down time which has been proven to reduce mental illness in soldiers during wartime activities. I will submit the research at a later time.

    I am not trying to use our soldiers as a pawn. I am putting this information out because, hell, no one is talking about it from this perspective. I am using myself as a means to bring to the public the attention that this issues deserves.

    We send our soldiers to war with all the support in the world. Then after they are home they have to fight again to get help and benefits.

    My lead in my blog says it all:

    We tell a soldier or veteran of war “welcome home” because the battle never leaves us, as we return from conflict everyday of our lives. This is my story and struggle with PTSD, it affects every aspect of my life. I want people to know what a combat veteran goes through after the media and people forget.

    “After the media and people forget”, you have not experinced this phenomenon yet. Veteran issues fall on deaf ears during non-war time, that has been the experience of a significant level of veterans.

  5. RG, I think we’re agreeing to a degree here. I’ve seen dwell time range from about 8 months to almost 3 years, with the average based on those I personally know being about 13 months or so. My point is that our deployments, with exceptions, are typically not as eventful as the ones of our predecessors in WWII.

    Are we spending MORE downrange? Probably, though I’m sure it’s debatable. But, the question is whether that downrange time is as combat intensive as WWI or WWII. I would submit that – again, with exceptions – NO! It is not.

    Don’t get me wrong here, I completely agree with you and CF that there are emotional and physical injuries we have yet to realize with this war. It’s a fact of war and there isn’t one combat action in history in which this isn’t the case. That is why I say that our elected officials REALLY need to understand what they are doing when they vote to send troops into harm’s way. As bad as it sounds, there are times when those deaths, injuries, and mental disorders are a worthy price tag. Being a fellow Soldier, I think you understand what I mean by that even though non-veterans will see that comment as obscene.

  6. CJ:

    I believe that had Bush served a day of his life in actual service or combat, he would never have invaded Iraq – we’ll never know.

    Regardless, we appear to agree that a good thing would be for more of our leaders to have had service experience and, presumably, the patience to think before acting or speaking!

  7. Actually, Bush did serve in the Air National Gaurd, which is not a fake service. At the same time, it would have been wrong for our government to not have sent our troops to Iraq, because for 18 consecutive months the intel services of our allies as well as our own have been giving information that idicated Saddam’s Ba’ath government was a threat that needed to be neutralized.

    Now, back to military suicides. Thank you Roman General for posting about this issue. I will print out the list of PTSD symptoms for reference as I have a friend who has just returned from service. I know I may not be able to see it coming if the very possibility that he may commit suicide becomes a reality, but I will try my very best. After all, I owe it to him.

    Of course, these kinds of things aren’t preventable and you could never tell when something like this will occur. However, I just want to say thank you for putting the information about this topic out there. There are a lot of people who turn their heads away to avoid acknowledging this reality.

    You have the people who think Iraq is becoming a wonderful place who are turning their heads away because they do not want to see the reality of war. Same goes for the people who don’t want to realize that our troops’ departure would make the violence that drove the troops who committed suicide to do what they did much worse.

    Good post, and welcome to ASP. This may be belated but I have been out for some time so your arrival tothis blog is news to me.

  8. Here is a pretty good article that is relevant to the subject.

    http://www.helpguide.org/mental/post_traumatic_stress_disorder_symptoms_treatment.htm

  9. CJ, I definitely agree that our political leaders should be more considerate of the personal costs to war.

    I agree that WWII was more combat intensive in the killing fields. My original premise was that the war in Iraq has exposed our troops to unprecedented levels of sustained combat, not more intensive.

    By sustained I mean that in Iraq, life threatening situations engage our troops every part of every day with little to no downtime from threats. This war has up to 80-90% of our soldiers in harms way with around 60% knowing personally or have seen someone killed.

    In Vietnam our soldiers, on average had three missions a week with downtime outside of the combat zones with significant leave time outside of country. And less then 50% of these veterans had been exposed to combat or life threatening situations.

    WWII soldiers had even more downtime in between engagements than Vietnam soldiers. Also, WWII had a unified nation and cause against a definitive uniformed enemy.

    Why all this is important? PTSD has many additive considerations. Length of sustained threats, number of traumas, childhood & upbringing, support at home, age of soldier, etc.

    The Iraqi War has higher concentrations of soldiers exposed to multiple additive and compounded elements contributing to higher possible levels of mental illness and PTSD.

    I agree, this is all debatable. The most important thing, that we bring to the forefront the issue of helping our veterans and soldiers with meeting their mental and physical health needs.

  10. Thank you Ryan for the welcome. That is a great post on PTSD, concise and informative.

  11. CF, I won’t even glorify your ignorant response with one of my own. I can always count on you to find a way to attack Bush. What a miserable existence you must live to be so caught up in such hatred!

    RG,

    I have to respectfully disagree. 80-90% of troops are in harm’s way, but the number of troops actually engaged in or targets of fighting is not that high actually. Most Soldiers, especially since the surge, actually are getting quite bored in Iraq. Granted, most Soldiers probably know of someone who has been killed, but I would argue the number who have actually seen them is very low.

    Please understand, I’m not arguing the basis that war has a psychological effect on troops. It does indeed. What I categorically reject is the notion that our Soldiers are unable to take the stress. I also reject the notion that all the stress is related strictly to the fact that they are in combat.

    Much of the stress our Soldiers face that NO OTHER Soldier has had to face is the political one. This war has become so politicized and, quite frankly, stupid that our Soldiers now have to wonder if they will prosecuted for pulling their trigger when they feel threatened. Their hands are tied as they try to protect themselves and others and defeat a very determined and hidden enemy. Soldiers are dying because our troops are second guessing themselves or going out of their way to “do the right thing” and allowing the enemy to engage them first.

    Our Soldiers are told that we can’t win this war. They’re told they’re cold blooded murderers. They’re told they terrorize women and children. Then they come home to a VA system unwilling/unable to care for them. Jobs that they no longer have. And a constant media drum beat of failure and negativism.

  12. Here’s one of the articles I was talking about:

  13. I think its an interesting comparison between WWII and OIF and OEF. As CJ said the sustained combat that the Soldier in WWII saw was probably a great deal more than the average Soldier in OIF or OEF.

    As far as the PTSD angle, how many vets of WWII suffered in silence because there simply was no help, nor any understanding of what they were going through. So how can we possibly measure or compare the two in that respect.

    Just as an example of the extreme differences between the two wars, and CJ being in on the original run into Baghdad could probably attest to this, the campaign was clean for the most part and it was fast and the sustained casualties for the US were minimal. Now, if you compare that to D-Day for example, there really isn’t any comparison. This is an excerpt from an article that I had read about D-Day.

    “The exploits of D-Day have long been legend: the storming of the beaches, parachute drops into enemy territory. But 60 years later, the number of dead is still unclear.

    The chaos of battle and the vast scale of the assault thwarted attempts then — and now — to tally how many thousands were killed in the June 6, 1944, landings that sped Nazi Germany’s defeat.

    Bodies disintegrated under bombs and shells. Soldiers drowned and disappeared. Company clerks who tallied casualties were killed. Records were lost.

    “Landing crafts were hit,” said Ivy Agee, an 81-year-old from Gordonsville, Tenn., who fought on Omaha Beach. “Bodies were flying everywhere. There was blood on the edge of the water; the beach was just running with pure blood.”

    My point is that in WWII, any one there, was a witness to such carnage that it would have potentially caused PTSD but since no one had a name for it and no one knew that these men were suffering as they were, there is no way to seriously compare the two. I would imagine that the kind of action that was seen in WWII produced a larger quantity of PTSD, that went untreated for decades.

  14. CJ:

    Misery loves company, and I have plenty of that – oh, about 75% of the American populace!!!

  15. CJ, you have a unique perspective on the Iraqi War and I value your assessment and opinions. Everything you say is true and accurate. As Sue has said, the actual measurement of WWII’s death tally and intensity was greater in scale.

    CJ, my point is online with what you have said, I think there has been some confusion as to what I meant by “This war has up to 80-90% of our soldiers in harms way…”, was more of our soldiers in the history of modern US warfare have been exposed to life threatening situations on a daily basis. This exacerbates the defensive mechanisms in the mind causing further entrenching of neurological disorders. Which we both agree with.

    As you point out in the article link, the soldiers have lost the support of the American people and now they have a sense of the military abandonoing them. Worrying more about whether they will be prosecuted rather than what I can do to get my buddies and myself home safely. This too has additive affects to psychological outcomes.

    My original premise was that in WWII and Vietnam the actual amount of soldiers in the combat arena were far less, around 15 and 50% respectively. Percentage wise, MOST of the soldiers in Iraq reside in areas of high alert, submerging them in stress hormones and high levels of hypervigilance WITHOUT relief.

    This constant bathing the brain in neurotransmitters and stress hormones causes increased likelihood of mental injury. The intensive stress levels of our troops in Iraq without sufficient downtime (stress-free environments) was the focus of my original statement and subsequent comments. Not the actual intensity of combat.

  16. CF said; “Misery loves company, and I have plenty of that – oh, about 75% of the American populace!!!”.

    Not so fast, the Democrat controlled Congress has an approval rating at 9 percent. So in this context, 91 percent of the American populace is not in your company.

  17. Honorable Speaker Pelosi:
    On February 14, 2008, the House unanimously passed Resolution 790 commending the people of the State of Washington for their treatment of veterans. The bill was sponsored by my district representative, Brian Baird. I find this resolution about as hypocritical as one by the Nazi Party congratulating itself on its treatment of the Jews.
    As a veteran of two combat tours in Vietnam and resident of Washington, I must protest this action by the House and point out a few facts. Through the state public disclosure law, I learned that then Attorney General and now Governor Christine Gregoire has spent more than half a million dollars on legal costs just to prevent 10 veterans who filed discrimination lawsuits from obtaining any employment with the state. In 2001, Washington became the first state to declare veterans’ preference unconstitutional. See Mitchell v. Board of Industrial Insurance Appeals. This decision was made by an appeals court, and the Washington Supreme Court has stubbornly refused all demands that it review this decision.
    While this money has been given out to stop veterans from earning a living, the State has been receiving grants in excess of $3.7 million each year from the U.S. Department of Labor to provide special employment services for veterans. Instead of using this money for the purpose Congress intended, the state has paid the regular workers of its Employment Security Department as veterans’ employment specialists and let them run the whole agency in order to save money. Neither special employment services nor adjudication of discrimination complaints brought by veterans were provided.
    Washington state agencies discriminate against veterans routinely, as do the universities in the state. For example, I learned that the Washington Department of Ecology employed only 59% of the minimum number of Vietnam Era veterans that the Personnel Department specified for state agencies. When I pointed this out to Judge Richard Strophy (Thurston County) several years ago, he implied that a veteran, per se, would not be as likely to be qualified to work for that agency as someone who had not served in the armed forces. This judge had been of draft age during the Vietnam War but had avoided active service by joining the National Guard. Needless to say, there is no recourse for veterans in the Washnington courts, which summarily dismiss all complaints filed by veterans without allowing them to present their cases to juries.
    During my own difficulties with being blacklisted by the State of Washington as a veteran, I have learned that my representative, Brian Baird, gives no attention to real veterans’ problems but only supports increasing the budgets of the agencies that are supposed to be assisting veterans but do not. I am sure that he has me on his troublemaker list for complaining about being blacklisted because I served two combat tours in Vietnam, and state employees who avoided service would feel uncomfortable working with a veteran.
    Thank you for your attention to this matter. I hope that the House will revoke Resolution 790. From what I have observed, the “commendable” treatment of veterans in Washington is limited to throwing some change into the cups of the many destitute veterans begging at freeway exits in the state.
    Dr. Charles W. Heckman

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