The Insidious Enemy: Why the Pentagon is Losing the War Against Military Suicide

(Authors: Mark Thompson & Nancy Gibbs)

Time, July 23 2012, Vol. 180, No. 4, pages 22-31.

“More soldiers would die by their own hand, one every day on average (about as many as are dying on the battlefield).  These are active-duty personnel, still under the military’s control and protection.  Among all veterans, a suicide occurs every 80 minutes, round the clock.”

“While veterans account for about 10% of all U.S. adults, they account for 20% of U.S. suicides.”

“More U.S. military personnel have died by suicide since the war in Afghanistan began than have died fighting there.  The rate jumped 80% from 2004 to 2008, and while it leveled off in 2010 and 2011, it has soared 18% this year.”

“The stresses layered on by war - the frequent deployments, the often brutal choices, the loss of comrades, the family separation - all play a role.  So do battle injuries, especially traumatic brain injury and posttraumatic stress disorder (PTSD).  And the constant presence of pain and death can lessen one’s fear of them.”

“No program, outreach or initiative has worked against the surge in Army Suicides.”

“ Kim Ruocco directs suicide-prevention programs at the nonprofit Tragedy Assistance Program for Survivors, or TAPS.”

“Service members who have bonded with their units, sharing important duties, can have trouble once they are at a post back home, away from the routines and rituals that arise in a close-knit company.  The isolation often increases once troops leave active duty…”

“The military frequently cities relationship issues as a predecessor to suicides; that irritates the survivors to no end.”

“It was not the war that turned out to be hard; it was the peace.”

“When troops return from deployment, they are required to do self-assessments of their experience: Did they see people killed during their tour?  Did they feel they had been at risk of dying?  Were they interested in getting counseling for stress or alcohol use or other issues?  But a 2008 study found that when soldiers answer questions anonymously, they are two to four times as likely to report depression or suicidal thoughts.”

“The army reported in January that there was no way to tell how well its suicide-prevention programs were working, but it estimated that without such interventions, the number of suicides could have been four times as high.  Since 2009, the Pentagon’s ranks of mental-health professionals have grown by 35%, nearing 10,000.  A national shortage of such personnel means the Army is competing with the VA to hire the people it needs.”

“The Army has only 80% of the psychiatrists and 88% of the social workers and behavioral-health nurses recommended by the VA.  Frequent moves from post to post mean that soldiers change therapists often, if they can find one, and mental-health records are not always transferred.”

“4%  Percentage of the Pentagon’s $52 Billion annual medical bill is allocated to mental health.”

“There is an 18% Percentage increase in suicides among U.S. Active-Duty troops in 2012, compared with 2011, through June3.”

“Ian tried to get help – six times in all… Think about all the guys who don’t even try to get help because of the stigma.”

“Over 50% of the soldiers who committed suicide in the four years that I was vice [chief] had seen a behavioral-health specialists,”.  “It was a common thing to hear about someone who had committed suicide, who went in to see a behavioral-health specialist, was dead within 24, 48, or 72 hours – and to hear he had a diagnosis that said, ‘This individual is no danger to himself or anyone else’.”

“There is a horrific human cost, and there is the literal (financial) cost as well”

 “From 2005 to 2010 nearly a third of suicides were soldiers who never deployed.  Younger enlisted troops (mostly men) were more likely to kill themselves than older officers.  Most of these were married.  Unfortunately, the $2 Billion the Pentagon Allocates for Mental Health is only 4% of the $54 Billion/year medical fund.  So it isn’t nearly adequate to address the huge needs.”