CBS News Reveals High Rate of Veterans’ Suicides

CBS News is releasing a set of stories about their investigation into the high suicide rate among vets, especially young vets from Iraq. There are video clips here and here (this second link has a more complete text). The story series includes several bereaved families who talk about the loss of their loved ones, an interview with someone from Veteran’s Affairs who is reluctant to talk about the problem, and commentary from Senator Patty Murray.

CBS’ figures, collected from state death records, show that in 2005, Iraq vets were twice as likely as folks from the general population to kill themselves. They mention that Iraq vets are returning from combat with “mental health issues,” although it hardly seems mentally unhealthy to be traumatized from killing people and seeing people be killed.

A study of Iraq and Afghanistan vets published in the New England Journal of Medicine in July, 2004 showed the many horrible experiences the vets had while participating in the occupation of Iraq:

  • 93% of soldiers and 97% of Marines in Iraq reported being shot at
  • 77% of soldiers and 87% of Marines in Iraq reported shooting at the enemy
  • 14% of the soldiers and 28% of the Marines in Iraq reported being responsible for the death of noncombatants
  • 95% of the soldiers and 94% of the Marines in Iraq reported seeing dead bodies or human remains

The list of traumatic experiences that the study asked about is quite longer… horrible things that have happened to US soldiers in Iraq, and the horrible things our military is inflicting on the Iraqi people. The research also showed a tendency for substance abuse after returning from Iraq: a quarter of the soldiers and a third of the Marines reported “using alcohol more than they meant to” since their return from Iraq (although 17% of them reported that same issue prior to going to Iraq).
The Veterans Affairs Department is aware of that NEJM study, and meanwhile, even before CBS news came along, they were estimating that 5,000 vets will kill themselves this year (that refers to vets of all US wars, a figure around 25 million people). That’s lower than the number suicides by vets in 2006, which were over 6,000: more like 120 per week on average. There wasn’t much talk of that from this administration on Veteran’s Day…

But it’s good to remember that there are lots of ways out of despair and isolation vets feel, like speaking up or connecting with Iraq Veterans Against the War or Veterans for Common Sense.

And if you want to do some preventative activism, to maybe keep some young people from ever signing up, you can befriend a recruiter. I’m thinking about it…

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