Our guest blogger is Jon Soltz, chairman of VoteVets.org and veteran of the Iraq war.
It’s no secret that some of the toughest battles our troops fight begin when they return from overseas. That’s why it didn’t surprise me a bit this week, when the Army announced that suicides were at their highest rate in 26 years.
There are immense pressures on our troops in Iraq and Afghanistan. They’re being asked repeatedly to go back into the fight — first for 12-month deployments, and now for 15-month tours. During these tours, the troops are only allowed a single two-week break to return to their families. When we do this to them, with very little respite, the military starts to break down.
To get to the core of the issue, we have to look at the real reason for which combat troops and veterans would take their own lives. And that real issue — the larger issue — is Post Traumatic Stress Disorder.
The numbers of troops diagnosed by the military and the VA with PTSD are disturbingly low — especially when viewed by one who’s been in combat. Early in the war, the number given was around 30 percent. So the question becomes then, how do we reconcile these two figures — the high suicide rate with the low PTSD rate?
Troops that enter the military go through an extensive physical and intense training prior to joining their assigned unit. The rigorous screening makes these new numbers even more shocking, because those who showed any tendency to commit suicide are people who would never have qualified for military service from the start. Clearly, these are tendencies that largely come about as a direct result of being deployed to war. If this administration can so wantonly send troops to war, why is it having such problems taking care of them when they get back?
Suicide is no different than homelessness; it’s a symptom of Post Traumatic Stress Disorder. Though it’s been estimated that one in three troops in Iraq is facing the symptoms of the disease, the larger question is why are so few being officially diagnosed with PTSD?
The first question we have to ask (and something the government has not done a good job of doing) is defining what is PTSD? What quantifies it in a person? How do you diagnose it? How does a veteran, as they’re often told to do, “prove” they have it?
If you walk into a hospital and your arm is broken you have an X-Ray for proof. If you have cancer or HIV there is medical proof for the diagnosis. There is nothing in the medical community that can completely prove or disprove PTSD — that is until its too late. These increased suicide rates are a sign that were still not doing our jobs catching those with PTSD, before they reach a critical point.
It can’t be ignored that there’s a monetary “benefit” for the government if it keeps the count of PTSD down. The bar for qualifying for is kept unreasonably high. If a veteran is diagnosed with PTSD, it will cost our government money in care and disability, perhaps for the life of the person. So, while we’re not seeing a real increase in the cases of declared PTSD, we have seen an increase in the diagnosis of “adjustment disorder” and “pre-existing personality disorder,” because those aren’t diagnoses the government will compensate our troops for. Not only does it deny troops financial disability, but also the mental services the system provides, leaving them all alone in society.
If you don’t think it’s accurate, I would remind you this is an administration that won’t even tell our country the names of soldiers wounded in war. They have a track record of dishonesty in supporting our veterans.
Not only are we misdiagnosing PTSD, but we are actively sending troops back to Iraq with the illness who are even being medicated with drugs. As reported by the Hartford Courant, Col. Elspeth Ritchie, a psychiatry consultant to the Army surgeon general, confirmed that there was a decision to send back soldiers to Iraq with symptoms or a diagnosis of PTSD stating that it was “something that we wrestle with,” and partly driven by the military’s need to retain troops because of recruiting shortfalls.
“Historically, we have not wanted to send soldiers or anybody with post-traumatic stress disorder back into what traumatized them,” she said. “The challenge for us … is that the Army has a mission to fight.”
Also, according to the Hartford Courant, one 26 year old Marine who was having trouble sleeping was put on a strong dose of Zoloft that carries warnings urging doctors to closely monitor new patients for suicidal urges. Within several months of starting that drug the Marine killed himself in Iraq.
When we see these increased suicide rates we must ask, are we diagnosing this problem properly and if not, why not? We must also examine why are we sending troops into combat on antidepressant drugs that have a demonstrable link to suicidal tendencies in some? Why would those who say they ‘support the troops’ so clearly lead some on a road directly leading to suicide? Not only does it place that troop’s life in danger, but it hinders the command, and the safety of other troops.
The mainstream media didn’t miss the large point with this story. It is tragic and it is clearly linked to the Army extensions to 15 month deployments. But there is so much more to examine here, and I genuinely hope that here on this blog and in the mainstream media, we don’t soon forget this report.