Moral Outrage
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Hidden toll of US wars: 18 veterans commit suicide daily

An average of 18 US military veterans are taking their lives every day. The stunning figure was reported last week by the Army Times, citing officials in the US Veterans Affairs Department.

The greatest growth in suicides has taken place among veterans returning from the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan, who accounted for 1,868 suicide attempts in fiscal 2009, which ended on September 30.

The connection between the “surge” in military suicides and the ongoing wars in Iraq and Afghanistan is undeniable. The suicide rate within the military doubled between 2001 and 2006, even as it remained flat among the comparable (adjusted for age and gender) civilian population. And the numbers continue to rise steadily.

Many have blamed the increasing number of suicides on the repeated combat deployments to which members of the all-volunteer US military are subjected, with the so-called “war on terrorism” approaching its 10th year and nearly 200,000 US troops deployed in Afghanistan and Iraq.

Craig Bryan, a former Air Force officer and University of Texas psychologist who advises the Pentagon on suicides, linked the phenomenon to the training given by the military itself. “We train our warriors to use controlled violence and aggression, to suppress strong emotional reactions in the face of adversity, to tolerate physical and emotional pain and to overcome the fear of injury and death,” he told Time magazine earlier this month. These qualities, designed to prepare soldiers to kill unquestioningly, “are also associated with increased risk for suicide,” he said.

According to one recent Veterans Administration estimate, 154,000 US veterans are homeless on any given night, many of them living on the streets.

On April 16, Veterans Affairs Secretary Eric Shinseki, the former Army chief of staff, testified on Capitol Hill on veteran suicides, providing equally telling numbers. He reported that VA suicide hotlines were fielding 10,000 calls a month. He added that veterans who make up a “a disproportionate share of the nation’s homeless, jobless, mental health (problems), depressed patients, substance abusers, suicides.”

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One Response to “Hidden toll of US wars: 18 veterans commit suicide daily”

  1. On the same day that Shinseki was testifying in Washington, 27-year-old Jesse Huff, an Iraq war veteran, killed himself outside a Veterans Administration medical facility in Dayton, Ohio, where he had been treated for post-traumatic stress disorder.

    Huff, who had been injured by a roadside bomb in Iraq, shot himself twice in the head with an assault rifle at the foot of a statue to the Union soldiers of the Civil War.

    A cousin told the Associated Press that he “hadn’t been the same” since returning from Iraq, while the father of a young man with whom he lived said that Huff was “really hurting.”


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