In the month of June, members of the U.S. Army (active duty, Guard and Reserve) committed suicide at the rate of one per day. Suicide has just set a grim record, an awful benchmark: 32 in the month of June. And that's just one branch of the armed forces. It’s among the stories we are covering tonight -- and in the middle of our afternoon editorial meeting, I got an email from one of the best guys I know: Jack Jacobs, a Recipient of the Medal of Honor. Jack, a retired U.S. Army Colonel (and a military affairs consultant to the network) appears as part of a PSA campaign airing now -- aimed at a military audience and getting heavy airplay on the Military Channel, among other outlets (especially at our military facilities). I've talked about Jack's book, based on his combat history and you can see the PSA's his fellow Recipients have recorded here. While Jack is a heavily-decorated combat veteran from Vietnam, he has closely studied both of our current wars, has closely studied this issue -- visiting facilities overseas and domestically and talking with recently-returned combat veterans. I asked him for his thoughts, and they are below. For my money, this is the highest-quality review of the suicide problem that we will ever read. It is unvarnished, and fresh from the field...just like my friend Jack.
It is difficult for most people to grasp what would drive anybody to suicide, but the increasing number of suicides among member of the US armed forces looks like a troubling epidemic.
I have many friends who are veterans---from World War II through the current conflicts---and they all tell me the same thing: armed combat is ferocious and terrifying, and nobody is the same after it. But they say that the nature of much of the combat in Iraq and Afghanistan, and the way in which we use our small military force, may both contribute to the psychological problems that troops experience.
The majority of our casualties have come from improvised explosive devices, set in ambush and usually detonated remotely. The type of combat in which one side fires on and maneuvers to kill or capture the other was more commonplace in previous wars. And while both are dangerous and fearsome, there is a certain feeling that in toe-to-toe combat you can affect the outcome of the engagement. But in the kill zone of an IED ambush, there is none of that, and it is easy to conclude that there is no way to affect whether you live or die.
And there are other contributing factors:
--Explosions. Getting caught by or near an explosion can easily produce brain trauma, even if there's no blood. Repetitive explosions produces repetitive concussions. 20 years from now, many of these people will develop Parkinson's Disease or the symptoms of similar disorders, and the VA will have its hands full. We Americans will have to re-visit this topic again, when the public and the Congress will have forgotten the sacrifice of these brave young Americans, looking for help from a nation that will have moved on.
--Repetitive tours. We rely on a small number of people, and we keep sending them back, with no end in sight. to the troops who feel that we have no strategic objective, or that we keep changing it, service looks like war without end. It is difficult not to become depressed.
--The economy. Service members in the National Guard and Reserve also serve multiple tours in combat areas, and when they, and regular forces who are discharged after their enlistments, eventually return to civilian life, they are confronted with an economy that can't absorb them into the marketplace. They have responsibilities they can't fulfill financially, and some of them, reeling under those burdens and a feeling that their service has been in vain, become uncontrollably despondent.
Until recently, there were perceived impediments to seeking and getting help. That has changed. Now, no stigma attaches to asking for assistance, and there are hugely successful programs to assist troops who are in trouble. With so much command emphasis, the situation is likely to improve. But the country must vow today to remember there brave Americans when, years from now, they ask for our help.
My thanks to Jack Jacobs. I hope you can join us for our broadcast tonight, and have a good weekend.