Military Suicides Outpace Combat Deaths
On Thursday, former senator Chuck Hagel (R-Neb.) will appear before the Senate Armed Services Committee as he begins the confirmation process for Secretary of Defense. A decorated veteran, Hagel has come under fire for his views on gay rights and Israel, however, considering the high suicide rates scaling the military perhaps Hagel's attitudes toward mental health should also take the spotlight.
Recently released Pentagon findings show yet another rise in the number of suicides among active-duty military. The 349 young men and women who took their own lives is the highest total since the Pentagon started keeping track in 2001. The Associated Press reported that the number of active military members who committed suicides exceeded the 295 combat deaths in Afghanistan last year. But the issue of suicide is not limited to active-duty military. Many Iraq and Afghanistan veterans struggle with post-traumatic stress disorder or traumatic brain injury..
Mostly white men under the age of 25, in junior ranks, who did not possess a college education were most likely to take their own lives as the AP pointed out.
Too often mental health issues are socially greeted with hesitancy, and the increased stigma that follows those presumed or diagnosed as mentally ill is compounded in service. The military demands a narrowly defined hypermasculine version of toughness and strength that typically isn't associated with those who admittedly suffer from and seek help for mental health issues. This dangerously fabricated binary can leave those suffering in silence feeling desperate to take measures into their own hands.
But not all is lost. Some organizations issued aggressive approached with dealing with veteran isolation- and suicide-prevention. Team Rubicon, started by veterans in the aftermath of the Haiti earthquake to put military skill-sets to use in rapid disaster response situations, recently shifted its focus slightly to emphasize the engagement of young veterans in meaningful service work that can keep them from losing their sense of purpose.
"Veterans lose three things when they take off the uniform: purpose, community, and sense of self. Team Rubicon gives veterans a new mission through disaster response, a new community because they're back serving alongside their fellow veterans, and an improved sense of self because they can see tangible progress in their response efforts," Team Rubicon Co-founder William McNulty told Campus Progress. McNulty is a Marine who served in both the infantry and intelligence.
Student Veterans of America's (SVA) mission is to "provide resources, support, and advocacy needed to succeed in higher education and post-graduation," and they've extended assistance to veterans dealing with mental health issues while trying to succeed in school.
"There is help available. Don’t be afraid to reach out and ask for help," Brian Hawthorne, an SVA board member who completed two tours in Iraq told Campus Progress. "If you hurt yourself in the military you would go to a medic. It is just as important to take care of your mental health so that you can stay strong and continue to support your family and continue to complete the mission. We have peer support at SVA and we can elevate your concerns to the next level."
McNulty encouraged that any active duty military or veteran struggling with depression or post-traumatic stress should speak to a mental health professional, emphasizing that there is no shame in admitting you need help; As a Marine he sought it himself.
Any veteran that needs immediate help should contact the Veteran Crisis Line at 1-800-273-8255 (Press 1 for the dedicated veterans hotline) or visit VeteransCrisisLine.net. Civilians in need can call the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline at 1-800-273-TALK.
There are also steps civilians can take to support to our troops said McNulty: "Write your congressman and tell them that you think 18 military veterans committing suicide everyday is a national emergency,"
We cannot afford to wait.
Marc Peters is a reporter at Campus Progress.You can follow Marc on Twitter at @rippleofhope.
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