Trauma, PTSD, and Suicide have finally been acknowledged as a problem by the Commander in Chief.
On July 6, 2011, the White House reversed a longstanding policy in which condolence letters, written and signed by the President and sent to the families of those who died in combat or by accident, were not sent to the families of those who had killed themselves in a war zone. They will now receive them.
The recognition of the President could have a profound effect not only on the families of the victims but also on the increasing awareness of the prevalence of Post Traumatic Stress Disorder and suicide in combat troops and veterans.
This reversal in policy clearly indicates a shift in the perception that PTSD–from which most of these soldiers suffered–comes from a personal weakness, or cowardice according to General Patton, to a recognition of it as a serious internal wound inflicted by combat.
Here is the official statement by President Obama on July 6 regarding the reversal of the policy: “This decision was made after a difficult and exhaustive review of the former policy, and I did not make it lightly. This issue is emotional, painful, and complicated, but these Americans served our nation bravely. They didn’t die because they were weak. And the fact that they didn’t get the help they needed must change.”
Finally, after years of record-keeping, PTSD and suicide is being seen as a real problem that kills more of our servicemen than wars do.
Wait a minute. Suicide kills more servicemen than combat? Is this an exaggeration?
Consider the following:
- More veterans of the Vietnam War have committed suicide than died in combat in Vietnam.
- A CBS News Investigation: 45 states reported in 2005 that there were at least 6,256 suicides among those who served in the armed forces. That’s 120 each and every week, in just one year.
- Mark Thompson, in the April 13, 2010 issue of Time magazine says, “From the invasion of Afghanistan until last summer, the U.S. military had lost 761 soldiers in combat there. But a higher number in the service — 817 — had taken their own lives over the same period.”
- According an MSNBC broadcast on July 6, 2011, “1800 members of the military on active duty have committed suicide since the beginning of the war in Iraq and Afghanistan. And more active duty troops have died by suicide in the last two years than have died in combat.”
The United States is not the only country with this problem. Great Britain, with a woeful lack of mental health resources for its vets that rivals that of the U.S., has also acknowledged the problem. The Independent, July 15, 2009, reports: “An estimated 264 Falklands veterans have committed suicide since the conflict ended, compared with 255 soldiers killed in action, according to an ex-servicemen’s organisation. And 24 British soldiers died during the 1991 Gulf War, the Ministry of Defence disclosed, while 169 veterans of the conflict had died from ‘intentional self-harm’ or in circumstances that led to open verdicts at inquests.”
The military is seeking to understand these astonishing high rates of suicide. According to Yochi Dreazen in the November 4, 2009 Issue of the Wall Street Journal: “Army officials say the strain of repeated deployments with minimal time back in the U.S. is one of the biggest factors fueling the rise in military suicides.”
We are now realizing a sobering fact about war: more soldiers who go into combat die by their own hands than by enemy hands as a result of PTSD and suicide. The severity of the problem can no longer be ignored and is only now being officially recognized. This opens up the possibility of finding ways to deal with the problem, which the military is actively pursuing, having spent over 50 million dollars over the last few years.
As the President said, ” . . .they didn’t get the help they needed. . . .” I propose that the military look into the effectiveness of Somatic Experiencing, which has been used by officers in the Israeli military to address trauma in the field as it happens with great, albeit anecdotal, success according to Gina Ross, author of Beyond the Trauma Vortex Into the Healing Vortex: A Guide for the Military.
If you know a combat veteran who has the symptoms of PTSD, talk to them and encourage them to get help. As the statistics show, suicide could well lie in their future. Either contact me or someone else. But get help now!
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