The suicide rate in the Army is extraordinarily high. However, the Army is extremely good at tracking Soldiers who have committed suicides. There are rich data on these service members. Common factors are a relationship break-up, and difficulties on the job.
Not only suicides, but domestic violence and homicides, grab the headlines. Are other forms of violence higher among the military and veterans, as suicide now is?
The short answer is that I do not know. Neither does anyone else. There is data on domestic violence in service members. But there are no good ways to track the rate violence in those no longer on active duty.
A few “highlights”:
— the murder-suicides at Fort Bragg in 2002
— a massacre at Haditha, Iraq, by Marines in 2005
— shootings in a mental health clinic at Camp Liberty, Iraq, in 2009 that killed five
— the 14 murders at Fort Carson in 2009
— the mass shooting at Fort Hood in 2009 that killed 13
— the massacre of 17 Afghan civilians in 2012, allegedly by Staff Sergeant Robert Bales.
The post 9/11 history also includes alleged torture of detainees at Abu Ghraib and Guantanamo Bay and other facilities. Plus urination on dead bodies, the killing of a Park Ranger, and various other atrocities.
But is this different from other wars? Frankly, we do not know, as we did not track violence the same way in other wars.
How can we make sense of all of this? Are service members all crazed killers? Is it related to the rates of post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) and traumatic brain injury (TBI)? Or simply victims of the long war?
I reject the crazed-killer theory.
Diagnosed PTSD and TBI does not appear to be the smoking gun on either the suicides or homicides (undiagnosed PTSD and TBI may contribute).
Given the steady beat of violence across this last 10 years, it cannot just be the long war.
I certainly do not want to add to the stigma by highlighting these examples of violence. Veterans are already too high on the list of those who are unemployed. But if there is a trend, we need to know about it.
The Defense Department and military services advocate reducing stigma by making “getting help” more acceptable. Still service members legitimately worry about the effect of seeking mental health treatment on their careers.
Concerns about confidentiality for service members are epitomized by the commanders’ “need to know.” But just what is it they need to know? The commander says: “I just want to know so that I can take care of my men and women.” The average service member says: “I do not want to commander to know. If he does, I will not be promoted.”
So we’re raising more questions than it answers here.
But as usual, I will make some recommendations:
— The Defense Department and the Department of Veterans Affairs should develop a data bank that tracks violence, including suicide, domestic violence and homicide.
— The Pentagon and DVA should evaluate strategies to evaluate and reduce violence.
— The Defense Department should examine all policies that promote stigma such as its “Deployment-Limiting Psychiatric Conditions.”
— The nation should work on strategies to reduce all of the above.