GRIM

Published September 13, 2021 by Nan Mykel

      Biden must have a heavy heart now.  He chose the wrong action, and must deeply regret it. –Not to regret pulling out but not to have taken one more month to get our folks and their folks out. Something about a letter from the embassy in Kabul that wasn’t delivered flies in the face of ignored intelligence reports.  And the number of troop suicides is expected to go up a tick due to all that heartache and destruction for nothing, at least  as envisioned by a Republican in Congress.  The troop suicides of course is a matter of concern, no matter the cause.  What is the rundown on the suicides of our armed forces, anyway?

     Npr reports that Female veterans are nearly 250 percent more likely to kill themselves than civilian women.  There are also the general demands of military life to consider, from long hours and separations from families to, notably, the prevalence of sexual trauma, according to Megan McCarthy, the VA’s deputy director for suicide  protection.  Often, even back on base between missions, while the men are decompressing, the women may feel like they can’t let down their guard because of the possibility of sexual assault.  “One of the reasons we think why women veterans die by suicide at higher rates than civilians do is because they are more likely to attempt suicide with a firearm than civilian women,” McCarthy said. “Firearms are a very lethal method of suicide.”  A study released Monday June 2, 2021, by the Costs of War Project, points out that the way the Defense Department and VA track suicides might mean even the growing numbers are incomplete. DoD’s numbers may be off for active-duty suicides, “by as much as half,” according to the report, because of the way it investigates and determines whether a death is a suicide.

      In addition to other factors, “it is imperative we also consider the impact of the military’s reliance on guiding principles which overburden individual service members with moral responsibility, or blameworthiness for actions or consequences, over which they have little control.” (Meghann Myers, https://www.militarytimes.com/news/your-military/2021/06/21/).  Simultaneously, the length of the war and advances in medical care have allowed service members to redeploy after severe physical trauma,” according to the report. “These compounding traumas contribute to worsening suicide rates as service members deploy and redeploy after sustaining severe injuries.” ….“For example, since the post-9/11 wars began, we have seen a tremendous rise of improvised explosive devices (IEDs) in warfare, significantly increasing the number of traumatic brain injuries (TBIs) and polytrauma cases among service members,” according to the report. “TBIs have affected as many as 20 percent of post-9/11 service members, with many experiencing more than one during their career.”  Twenty years of combat operations might also be a factor.  “That polytraumas and repeated TBIs are so commonplace should motivate changes in if and how service members are redeployed.”

      There’s also a culture that values pushing distress aside in service of the group, putting the mission above any one person’s needs, despite a decade of ever-increasing research, support and an attempt to de-stigmatize struggles with mental health.

“Military life is exhausting, and the high operational tempo limits time for reflection,” according to the report. “Further, the dominant masculine identity that pervades the military is one that overwhelmingly favors machismo and toughness. Asking for help during trauma or suicidal ideation, then, is necessarily at odds with military culture; ‘acknowledging mental illness is likely to be viewed as a sign of weakness and a potential threat to their careers.’ “

      The following is from the NY Times magazine by Nick Turse :  Published June 30, 2020 Updated June 22, 2021,  U.S. Commandos at Risk for Suicide: Is the Military Doing Enough?

“In 2017 one of the largest efforts to understand military suicide ever undertaken — a study examining suicide attempts by soldiers during the early years of the wars in Afghanistan and Iraq — found that Special Operations Forces might be more resilient than the Army’s general-purpose forces, because of rigorous selection, intense training, strong unit cohesion or psychological and biological characteristics. The next year, S.O.F. suicides spiked nearly threefold above 2017’s total.”

“Joseph Votel, a retired Army general who commanded SOCOM from August 2014 to March 2016  recalled discussions about the suicide study. “People were witnessing horrible things on the battlefield; people were injured and were taking a lot of medication to manage the pain; people were in 15, 16 years and dealing with the wear and tear of a military career, and they worried that they couldn’t keep up.”

He was one of the most elite military men in America, but his service in the Special Operations Forces (S.O.F.) had taken a heavy toll. “The job I love and have committed my whole being to is creating my suicidal condition, but I’d rather die than admit to having trouble and being removed from my unit and my team,” he said often, according to someone close to him. It was impossible for The New York Times to follow up with this special operator, however, because he had died by suicide.

      “The soldier’s troubling admission is found in a study of suicides among America’s most elite troops, commissioned by U.S. Special Operations Command (SOCOM) and obtained by The New York Times via the Freedom of Information Act. Conducted by the American Association of Suicidology, one of the nation’s oldest suicide-prevention organizations, and completed sometime after January 2017, the undated 46-page report aggregates the findings of 29 “psychological autopsies” — detailed interviews with 81 next-of-kin and close friends of commandos who killed themselves between 2012 and 2015″…

      “The findings of SOCOM’s psychological-autopsy study, which have never been released to the public, offer a window into the private struggles of the elite troops who have borne a disproportionate burden over almost two decades of ceaseless American conflicts. Researchers found that nearly all of the 29 commandos suffered some form of post-traumatic stress disorder or emotional trauma following their first deployment, according to their loved ones. A dozen or more had shared details of how they were affected by combat, and their accounts included not only being under fire or experiencing the deaths of colleagues but also the killing of enemy soldiers, witnessing or participating in the torture or deaths of detainees and missions that violated their personal ethics. Such war zone-specific issues, the study found, compounded typical home-front issues like financial problems, which affected 58.7 percent of the deceased, and relationship problems, which afflicted 51.7 percent.”

      “Joseph Votel, a retired Army general who commanded SOCOM from August 2014 to March 2016  recalled discussions about the suicide study. “People were witnessing horrible things on the battlefield; people were injured and were taking a lot of medication to manage the pain; people were in 15, 16 years and dealing with the wear and tear of a military career, and they worried that they couldn’t keep up.

In 2017…. “one of the largest efforts to understand military suicide ever undertaken — a study examining suicide attempts by soldiers during the early years of the wars in Afghanistan and Iraq — found that Special Operations Forces might be more resilient than the Army’s general-purpose forces, because of rigorous selection, intense training, strong unit cohesion or psychological and biological characteristics.” The next year, S.O.F. suicides spiked nearly threefold above 2017’s total.

      “The psychological-autopsy report found a widespread fear that reporting mental health issues or suicidal ideation would lead special operators to be separated from their unit, cripple their chances of promotion or otherwise negatively impact their careers. S.O.F. members “see the way others who sought help were treated and recognize that most of these individuals left the service soon after they had shared that they had suicidal ideation, the study found…”

      Concered about forestalling more troop suicides following the U.S. withdrawal from Afghanistan, focussing on the bright side of the war has been suggested, and unfortunately I can’t find the post now.  (I’m still a newbie after 7 years)…  But it motivated me to do this post, so at least let me explain.  I seem to remember it was from the V.A. and said to expect more troop suicides because of our withdrawal.  And it cautioned us not to dwell on the negative aspects of losing the war, but instead to focus on the positives from the war.  It listed “positives,”  but the only one I recall was that the rate of infant deaths has decreased since the occupation in Afghanistan….

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