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“About 72% of veterans are at least 50. It is not surprising, then, that the VA found that people in this age group account for 69% of veteran suicides — or more than 15 of the 22 per day.” – Alan Zarembo, LA Times
Most did not serve in combat in Iraq or Afghanistan.
Its better reported than in previous wars.
Transition time from battleground to civil life was way longer. Troops came back by boat and had weeks to deal together with what they’ve been through, what they where going back to, discuss it at length among soldiers and build some closure.
Getting thrown all alone into civil life immediatly after a few flight hours, directly back from an hostile battlefield, makes the shock all the more violent IMO.
Past wars had more deaths in combat. The “war on terror” has had about 5k deaths in over ten years. The Korean War had 33k deaths in three years. The Korean war doesn’t even have a “high” death toll compared to other wars like WW1, WW2, Vietnam, etc.
Combine this low death toll with real reporting and statistics on PTSD, post-combat suicide, etc.
War has also changed. Despite stupid quippy sayings. There used to be infantry charges, conscripted troops, clear enemies. Now most days are spent in an outpost or in a vehicle, most deaths are to random attacks and small scale ambushes (including mines/etc).
Society has changed. Half a century ago you come back from a war without a college degree you can get a “real” job, stay with that company for years/the rest of your working life support a family, buy a house, and “live the dream”. Now if a person shows up to society at 24+ without a degree they are going to be stuck working retail barely able to pay for living expenses.
Basically its a combination of all of that. We notice it more, less people are dying in war, more people are living with really bad injuries, its hard to come back to society and “prosper” than it used to be, and war is arguably mentally harder now.
I don’t think it’s that the rate of mental health issues is higher, I think that it’s because the rate of combat deaths is much lower.
The US sent around ~500,000 men to Vietnam, and around ~50,000 died. In comparison, we sent around 100,000 to Afghanistan, and 2,000 died. Proportionally, that’s five times as many combat deaths, which is absolutely staggering. So, while it’s scary to say “more veterans have killed themselves than died in combat,” we’re talking about a war where, relatively speaking, very few died in combat. It’s hard to compare, really.
It should also be noted that those figures that the article is citing do include veterans of other wars (mostly Desert Storm and Vietnam, presumably).
Being a veteran has SIGNIFICANTLY hindered my efforts to be part of society. For one, there’s always the dreaded “did you kill anyone” question… If you say yes, then you’re a cold-hearted baby killer. If you say no then you didn’t really serve your country. Then come employers. They see you as a liability, or a tax break. Depending on what your MOS was, you’re either a tax break with everything to prove, or you’re a huge liability and they found someone else better qualified for the job (don’t even get me started on jobs that REQUIRE any sort of pedigree). Finally, the training itself. When you’re in the military, you are REQUIRED to become institutionalized. Guess where else you get institutionalized? PRISON. The mindset of the average vet is that of “always guilty until proven innocent”. This is the way it is in the military. Everyone who deals with you will see institutionalized behavior right off the bat, and will make every assumption that you are dangerous in one way or the other before they actually get a chance to see how awesome of an individual you are.
I don’t regret having served for a second. I’ve had a few friends off themselves for the stupidest reasons (and I miss them dearly). But when you’re down, and you’re around others who like to kick people when they’re down, the thought does cross your mind. Better to die with honor than without dignity.
edit: I did not “service” my country. I served. 😉
As an Infantry Marine veteran from OIF 1, 2, and 3, I have lost 12 of my brothers to suicide. Every one of these Marines and I were recovering at Wounded Warrior Battalion – West (on this day, 11 years ago, I was resuscitated after being caught in an 1.55 mm artillery shell blast, so it’s my Second Cakeday) and all of us were diagnosed with Post Traumatic Stress Disorder, in addition to our other wounds. I won’t go into how devastating these events were, but here is what I learned:
A LOT of us are coming back from this war. Our body armor, superior technology, no draftees, etc.; thankfully, these factors have allowed many of our service men and women to come back home. However, there is a huge spike in “wounded” personnel among those coming home. I put wounded in quotes because I include PTSD in that category and, sadly, there are many that do not consider suffering from PTSD a wound. I’m not going to get into any debates about this, but just know that I feel PTSD is a wound.
If you get shot in the arm, and Doc isn’t around to patch you up, there’s still a chance you can survive. You’re back from patrol and you decide now is a good time to talk to Doc. Problem solved. The end.
So let’s say you don’t get your arm patched up, let’s say it’s not a big deal. Your arm heals however much it can and you carry on living. In essence, you ignored your wound. Yah, you survived. But your arm will never be same.
Replaying the scenario, arm shot, “tough guy” attitude, don’t get patched up; but this time your arm gets infected. Your symptoms worsen, you’re freaking out on the inside, but you’re “tough”, you’re a goddamn Marine. You drink to fight the pain, but the infection is spreading. You just can’t take the pain anymore. The infection kills you.
Sorry about that….what I’m trying to say is that you need to treat the wounds. Shot in the arm, cause of death: Infection. PTSD, cause of death: Suicide.
TL;DR: more wounded survivors, more depression
Semper Fi 0311
While it’s true that suicides are better tracked now, I believe that Viet Nam produced as many or more suicides, given the number of troops who were there and the unpopularity of the war. For a perspective on soldiers , from both sides, who returned home, I would suggest reading “The Good War” by Studs Terkel. He writes in an oral interview style that gives insight into why and how WW2 returnees coped.
Separation of battle and the decreased veneration of war. In olden times you marched for a month or more on your way back from battle, compartmentalizing the difference in landscapes. Now, youre in iraq and within 20 hours home in your bed. Shit fucks with you man.
Better reported. Depression is recognized as a bigger issue now(as a disease). After WW2 they came back to jobs and didn’t experience the sudden slowdown.
Poor reporting. Most of the suicides are happening in troops that have never left garrison/seen combat.
No one really knows why garrison troops are killing themselves in such high numbers, but the current thought is there’s a lot of toxic leadership because its become so hard to remove leaders in the .mil
I found this article helpful. http://articles.latimes.com/2013/dec/20/science/la-sci-sn-veteran-suicide-statistics-20131219
There is poor funding for programs to help veterans when they come back to the states. War is hell. And a lot of them don’t have the resources on their own to learn how to deal with the horrors they’ve seen.
One significant reason is that there is an extraordinarily low number of US deaths, as compared to wars in the past.
The US is very willing to use tactics and equipment to prevent it’s service members from being killed to an extent that is extraordinary compared to most wars in the past.
Some of that means a high reliance on drones, cruise missiles, stealth bombers, to take out targets that other military forces of the past would have been forced to throw large numbers of infantry at.
It’s not that suicides are spectacularly high by any historical measure – It’s that combat deaths are extremely low. (Plus better attention is being paid to mental health issues among vets, so we are catching more of them than in the past.)
Because there is no goal.