It’s easy to forget that we are fighting two wars. Despite not being on the news every night, we still have 15-20 deaths every month in Iraq. So the immediacy of things tends to wane, as the thoughts of war are not at the forefront. But a declining economy means that recruiting is up; as people are struggling to find work they are turning to a large, reliable employer who is one of the few expanding right now – the US military.

So it’s important to remember that war takes a mighty large mental toll on a number of people, and unfortunately our military does not have a very good handle on it.

Late last month the Army released figures showing the highest suicide rate among soldiers in three decades. The Army says 128 soldiers committed suicide in 2008 with another 15 still under investigation. “Why do the numbers keep going up?” Army Secretary Pete Geren said at a Pentagon news conference Jan. 29. “We can’t tell you.” The Army announced a $50 million study to figure it out.

It is not just the suicides spiraling out of control. Salon assembled a sample of 25 cases of suicide, prescription drug overdoses or murder involving Fort Carson soldiers over the past four years, by no means a comprehensive list. In-depth study of 10 of those cases revealed a pattern of preventable deaths. In most cases, the deaths seemed avoidable if the Army had better handled garden-variety combat stress reactions.

This is an especially timely notice for me, as I’ve started doing daily 5AM PT in preparation for the possibility that I may be enlisting this summer if my current job goes away and I cannot find other employment.

We need to do better for those who elect to serve, be it out of patriotism or a desire for gainful employment. We have the resources to do better. Now we need to instill the will to do better in our military institutions.

  • Great post. I’ll say right off I hope you are able to stay gainfully employed in what you are doing now. I know that you are smart and talented in this area and my hope is that you can continue to apply your skills there.

    Commenting on the substance of the post. The reason our military doesn’t have a good handle on mental health is because it has for too long looked upon those struggling with mental issues as “weak”. You don’t look at someone who took a grenade to the leg as weak, you treat the injury and rehab the person back to active status. Why we don’t do that with mental health is really a testament to poor leadership and ignorance.

    Hopefully we can move beyond the point where we just dismiss those with mental issues resulting from war as weak and get them the help they need.

  • First, thanks Eric. I would certainly prefer to continue doing what I’m doing now. The reality is that my position might disappear later this year, and with the job market what it is… well, let’s just say I’d rather view it as an opportunity for a career change than face a potentially lengthy bout of unemployment. Besides, it’s provided me the motivation to do what I should have done a while ago and stop making excuses for my poor physical condition and to start doing something about it. My goal is to be able to meet Army fitness standards by June 1. Even if I don’t join the military, I’ll be healthier.

    Second, mental health problems have long been stigmatized. In the hyper-masculine world of the military, it’s just worse. I don’t think someone is “mentally weak” or a “coward” if they have an adverse reaction to some of the stuff described in the article.

    War is hell. To expect everyone to be able to take it all in stride with a John Wayne attitude is just unrealistic, and unfair.

  • Word man. I’m in week two of a weightlifting regimen and will begin 5k training on the 16th when I get back from a trip to SoCal.

    Totally agree on the mental health stigma. I’ve seen it firsthand both in and out of the military.

  • …which all makes me wanna ask you “you running the Commit to be Fit 5k?”. if not you should. May 2nd.

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