From the invasion of Afghanistan until last summer, the U.S. military had lost 761 soldiers in combat there. But a higher number in the service — 817 — had taken their own lives over the same period. The surge in suicides, which have risen five years in a row, has become a vexing problem for which the Army's highest levels of command have yet to find a solution despite deploying hundreds of mental-health experts and investing millions of dollars. And the elephant in the room in much of the formal discussion of the problem is the burden of repeated tours of combat duty on a soldier's battered psyche.
The [Army's] suicide rate continues to rise (it doubled between 2001 and 2006) while remaining flat in the civilian population, even when adjusted to reflect the Army's age and gender. Last year, 160 active-duty soldiers killed themselves, up from 140 in 2008 and 77 in 2003.
The problem is exacerbated by the manpower challenges faced by the service, because new research suggests that repeated combat deployments seem to be driving the suicide surge. The only way to apply the brakes will be to reduce the number of deployments per soldier and extend what the Army calls "dwell time" — the duration spent at home between trips to war zones.
Or we could just end these endless wars. Which would be a novel idea.
But unfortunately, the wars in Afghanistan and Iraq have taken a backseat to unemployment, recession, health care drama and the "angry" Americans out there who seem to be arming for and protesting everything but these wars. In fact, as a way of reducing deployments, it might be useful if the loaded for bear Tea Party activists put their patriotism where their pie hole is, joined the real Army for a hitch, and took all their Rambo rhetoric to the mountains Afghanistan.
Regardless, attention must be paid to what is basically a suicide epidemic among our returning vets. If I've said it once, I'll say it a million times: to escape the horrors of the battlefield, only to die by your own hand in a country perceived as uncaring and pre-occupied with idiocy, is the ultimate tragedy.