Military suicides outnumber operations deaths since 9/11: NPR

Military suicides outnumber operations deaths since 9/11: NPR

Silhouette of a United States Marine praying, photographed from behind.

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Silhouette of a United States Marine praying, photographed from behind.

John M. Chase / Getty Images

A new report on US military deaths contains blatant statistics: an estimated 7,057 soldiers have died in military operations since September 11, while 30,177 suicides among active soldiers and veterans of those conflicts – more than four times as many.

The data highlight the gap between the dangers of war and the ongoing mental health crisis not just in the military but across the country.

“Even the very conservative estimate I’ve made is shocking,” said Thomas Suitt, who wrote the paper for Brown University’s Cost of War Project, in an interview with MediaFrolic. “We should really, really care.”

As the post-presidential administration tries to get a grip on the ongoing suicides of military personnel, the paper highlights some of the reasons why people in the armed forces appear to be more likely to take their lives, though experts say the root causes of the crisis remain elusive.

What drives military personnel suicides?

The trauma of combat or the crisis of conscience some soldiers face can cause mental health problems, but Suitt suggested that military conflicts since 9/11 are in some ways very different from previous wars.

For example, he said that the proliferation of improvised explosive devices or IEDs among soldiers creates an atmosphere of fear and the possibility of traumatic brain injury if injured in an explosion. Modern medical advances have made it possible for soldiers to survive more severe injuries and even be re-deployed. (The number of deaths in military operations calculated by Suitt includes those killed in combat as well as accidents and illnesses.)

There are reasons why a soldier who has never seen combat can also develop mental health problems related to his time in the military.

Decreased public support for the country’s ongoing wars, an epidemic of sexual assault among the military, a “male” military culture and easier access to firearms could also contribute to the rise in suicides, Suitt suggested.

Carl Castro, a professor at the University of Southern California who served 33 years in the U.S. Army, said the reasons listed in the paper are risk factors for suicide, but the science is less clear about what actually makes people to end their lives.

“If we really want to tackle the problem of suicide in America, in the world, in the military, we need to approach it from a more disciplined framework,” he said.

Add to this the sheer length of the military conflicts after September 11th. The war in Afghanistan has been going on since 2001, the longest war in US history.

“I’ve spoken to veterans [whose] Sons are now serving in the same war they served, “Suitt said.

Retired Lieutenant General Joseph Anderson agreed that the post-9/11 era was unique because of the high number of deployments many soldiers faced during the protracted conflicts.

“The phenomenon of coming home, going into reintegration, watching units being dismantled and rebuilt and then put back in,” he said, “this cycle in all these years is unprecedented.”

Anderson also said that the asymmetrical warfare that characterizes post-9/11 conflict and the threat of insider attacks made these redistributions even more burdensome for men and women in uniform.

“That puts a strain on everyone over time when you never know for sure whether you are in a safe environment for quoting or not,” he said.

There is disagreement as to whether military suicides are on the rise

Suitt said that after September 11, the suicide rate among active service members and veterans has exceeded the suicide rate among civilians, a trend he described as “a significant change”.

The only other time that has happened was during the Vietnam War, noted Suitt, adding that the military’s suicide rates during previous conflicts were even lower than those of the general population.

But in a statement to MediaFrolic, Department of Defense spokeswoman Lisa Lawrence said that “military suicide rates are usually comparable to the US adult population” when adjusted for age and gender.

“Over time, suicide deaths have increased among the broader US population. Our service members are not immune to trends that are emerging in society, ”she said.

Lawrence noted that young people and men were among the groups at higher risk of suicide in the country and also made up a large portion of the military population.

She said the Department of Defense continues to adjust its suicide prevention efforts and encourage members of the military community to seek help and remove the stigma surrounding mental health issues.

“We owe this to our service members and military families who are doing so much to defend our great nation,” added Lawrence.

Anderson is also a director of TAPS, an organization that provides support and resources to those in the military who grieve the death of a loved one. He said it was crucial to connect current and former military personnel.

He said that as a commander, he saw how helping people with similar experiences helped those in crisis.

“Seeing how people can change and adapt and adapt because of this peer network is huge,” said Anderson.

If you or someone you know is contemplating suicide, call 1-800-273-8255 (En Español: 1-888-628-9454; Deaf and Hard of Hearing: 1-800-799-4889) National Suicide Prevention Lifeline) or the line of crisis text by sending HOME to 741741.

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Rachel Meadows

Rachel Meadows

Trending topics news writer who enjoys cooking, walking her dog and travel.

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