As an activist against the war in Viet Nam, I remember a stunning statistic I came across in the years following the end of conflict: more soldiers died from suicide after the war than were killed in the war itself. Imagine what those figures are today.
Dr. Edward Tick, Founding Director of Soldier’s Heart: Veterans’ Safe Return Programs, is a psychotherapist who has been involved in community-based healing of Viet Nam war veterans and Post-traumatic Stress Disorder(PTSD) for some 4 decades. Writing in Utne Reader back in 2005, Dr. Tick put the numbers at 58,000 dead in Vietnam, 100,000 or more to suicide and most of those occurred after the men came home.
Now it’s happening again. Suicides by Iraq and Afghanistan war veterans are soaring and even an U.S. Army study earlier this year showed a striking 80 percent increase in suicides among Army personnel between 2004 and 2008. According to the U.S. Army Public Health Command study, the high number of suicides are "unprecedented in over 30 years of U.S. Army records."
According to Iraq Veterans Against the War (IVAW) the rates are even higher when you look at all the branches of the milirary – suicide rates increased 150% from 2001 to 2009. And those figures will continue to rise when 20% to 50% of all service members deployed to Iraq and/or Afghanistan suffer from PTSD.
IVAW cites one study that showed that by 2008, nearly 33% of all service members had served 2 tours in Iraq and/or Afghanistan and 10% have served 3 tours. Today over 11,000 troops have served 6 tours or more. The likelihood that a service member suffers from PTSD is compounded by each tour, says IVAW. Almost 30% of service members on their third deployment suffer from serious mental-health problems.
It’s been one year since Iraq Veterans Against the War launched their Operation Recovery Campaign at Fort Hood, Texas which has the highest suicide rate of any Army post. Operation Recovery is a collaboration among veterans and civilians to end the deployment of traumatized troops and defend their right to heal.
This Memorial Day weekend IVAW is asking for support to address two major concerns soldiers face:
1) Commanders routinely override or ignore the medical treatment plans (also known as medical "profiles") that soldiers get from their doctors.
2) Commanders regularly stigmatize soldiers who seek care through public humiliation or creating an environment of intimidation that discourages soldiers from speaking up for their own well being.
IVAW is calling on Fort Hood Commander General Campbell to to put soldiers' safety first, urging him to hold a Safety Stand Down at Fort Hood to educate soldiers about their right to heal and hold commanders accountable. A Safety Stand Down is a day where all work activity ceases in order to focus on training and education about the safety and well-being of service members.
Visit IVAW's Operation Recovery Campaign Page to learn more and find out how you can support these efforts.
This Memorial Day let us also remember the some 132,000 civilians who have died from 10 years of war in Iraq and Afghanistan, according to a study by Brown University. Some say that is a conservative estimate.
The numbers will continue to rise as men, women and children bear the brunt of Washington's wars.
The views expressed here are those of the author and do not necessarily represent those of the entire War Times project
Felicia Gustin has been with War Times since the beginning. She currently works at SpeakOut, a national organization working primarily with colleges, universities, and high schools and dedicated to the advancement of education, racial and social justice, leadership development and activism. She is a long-time activist in international solidarity, peace, racial justice and labor movements. She was a journalist for 10 years in Cuba and is currently working on several projects - an historical memoir and a poetry collection, among others.
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