James Dao reports in the New York Times that the military is considering 2 steps to reduce its startling rate of active duty suicides—which is approaching an unacceptable one suicide every day. Both measures are completely sensible, but neither goes nearly far enough.
With understandable urgency, Secretary of Defense Leon Panetta has made suicide one of his top priorities, instructing commanders at all levels to feel acutely accountable for it. The numbers are startling. On average 1 active duty soldier is killing himself each day--twice the number of combat deaths and twice the civilian rate.
This psychiatrist was not prepared for the scope of impact our two long wars have had on military children.
Depression, PTSD, panic disorder, and abuse of alcohol and drugs are more insidious, quieter forms of illness that can cause the same desperation and disability as psychotic disorders.
In 2009, Maj Matthew P. Houseal, a psychiatrist, was in Iraq attempting to help suicidal soldiers when a fellow soldier killed him, a clinical social worker and 3 others at a combat stress center near Bagdad. Paradoxically, Houseal’s accused killer, US Army Sgt John Russell, had earlier threatened to take his own life, according to witnesses’ testimony during a recent investigative Article 32 hearing.
Most military families successfully adapt to a service member's deployments for military duties. Nevertheless, almost a decade of wartime stress associated with the current wars in Iraq and Afghanistan has presented unprecedented challenges for military families.
The latest information released by the US Army reveals that last year American soldiers attempted suicide at the rate of about 5 /day. There were 160 successful suicides last year and during June the rate was 1/day. Military research has reported that one in 10 Iraq veterans may develop a severe case of PTSD.
There has been much recent attention to the deleterious effects of natural disasters and war on children and adolescents.
Since the time of Homer, warriors have returned from battle with wounds both physical and psychological, and healers from priests to physicians have tried to relieve the pain of injured bodies and tormented minds.1 The soldier’s heartache of the American Civil War and the shell shock of World War I both describe the human toll of combat that since Vietnam has been clinically recognized as posttraumatic stress disorder (PTSD).2 The veterans of Operation Iraqi Freedom (OIF) and of Operation Enduring Freedom (OEF) share with their brothers and sisters in arms the high cost of war. As of August 2009, there have been 4333 confirmed deaths of US service men and women and 31,156 wounded in Iraq. As of this writing, 796 US soldiers have died in the fighting in Afghanistan.3
An array of military-related presentations were given at this year’s American Psychiatric Association (APA) conference, addressing the rise of psychiatric issues in returning veterans and their families.