The War is taking a toll, outside actual combat deaths.
Lt. Elizabeth Whiteside, a psychiatric outpatient at Walter Reed Army Medical Center who was waiting for the Army to decide whether to court-martial her for endangering another soldier and turning a gun on herself last year in Iraq, attempted to kill herself Monday evening. In so doing, the 25-year-old Army reservist joined a record number of soldiers who have committed or tried to commit suicide after serving in Iraq or Afghanistan.
“I’m very disappointed with the Army,” Whiteside wrote in a note before swallowing dozens of antidepressants and other pills. “Hopefully this will help other soldiers.” She was taken to the emergency room early Tuesday. Whiteside, who is now in stable physical condition, learned yesterday that the charges against her had been dismissed.
Whiteside’s personal tragedy is part of an alarming phenomenon in the Army’s ranks: Suicides among active-duty soldiers in 2007 reached their highest level since the Army began keeping such records in 1980, according to a draft internal study obtained by The Washington Post. Last year, 121 soldiers took their own lives, nearly 20 percent more than in 2006.
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At the same time, the number of attempted suicides or self-inflicted injuries in the Army has jumped sixfold since the Iraq war began. Last year, about 2,100 soldiers injured themselves or attempted suicide, compared with about 350 in 2002, according to the U.S. Army Medical Command Suicide Prevention Action Plan.
Ritchie’s team conducted more than 200 interviews in the United States and overseas and found that the common factors in suicides and attempted suicides include failed personal relationships; legal, financial or occupational problems; and the frequency and length of overseas deployments. She said the Army must do a better job of making sure that soldiers in distress receive mental health services. “We need to know what to do when we’re concerned about one of our fellows.”
This is such a Pointless Stupid Fucking War.
An Army hearing officer cited “Army values” and the need to do “what is right, legally and morally” when he recommended last month that Whiteside not face court-martial or other administration punishment, but that she be discharged and receive the medical benefits “she will desperately need for the remainder of her life.” Whiteside decided to speak publicly about her case only after a soldier she had befriended at the hospital’s psychiatric ward hanged herself after she was discharged without benefits.
I’m so furious about this whole mess I’m pretty much at a loss for words. If the GOP is serious about “supporting the troops” (they aren’t) then they need to stop spouting platitudes like Bush did Monday (where he asked Congress to “improve the system of care for our wounded warriors and help them build lives of hope and promise and dignity”) and start coming down on people who aren’t fixing the problem. Bush needs to walk into the SECDEF’s office and tell him to fix the damn problem or be fired. But that would be actual leadership, and we all know we haven’t had any of that for 7 years.
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