The Third Surge

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Army photo / Spc. Matthew Freire

U.S. troops engaged in a night-time IED hunt in Afghanistan.

The number of suicides in the ranks of the U.S. military has more than doubled since 9/11.

According to data released unofficially by the Pentagon on Monday, there were 349 suicides in the U.S. military in 2012, nearly one a day. That’s 118% more than 2001’s 160 suicides, and marks the Pentagon’s highest annual self-inflicted death toll ever.

Three-hundred-and-ten U.S. troops died in Afghanistan in 2012.

(MORE: A Suicide After-Action Report)

One perished in Iraq.

Three-hundred-and-forty-nine died at their own hands, a Pentagon official said Monday.

Seems only fitting. After all, there was a surge of U.S. troops into Iraq in 2007, followed by a surge into Afghanistan in 2010. So a surge in suicides – from 301 in 2011 to 349 last year, a 16% increase – follows a pattern.


Battleland Research Staff

We’ve tried making sense of the U.S. military’s suicide scourge since it began spiking northward several years ago. We’ve written of those who killed themselves, those who killed their families along with themselves, and, last week, veterans who have done so.

Every suicide is unique. But there are common threads. The post-9/11 stress of military life is real, even if some of those in uniform have never been in a war zone. In many cases – certainly those we’ve written about – war has often led to post-traumatic stress, to depression, and to behavioral problems that can lead to broken relationships. There’s a synergy there that can end in suicide. But for everyone who takes his own life (95% of troops who kill themselves are male), there are hundreds facing the same challenges who don’t.

(MORE: Military Suicides: The Tragedy of an Army Psychologist)

Defense Secretary Leon Panetta has detailed the many factors at play. “Part of this is the impact of over 10 years of war and the stress that’s involved in deployment after deployment after deployment after deployment,” he said in November. Suicide in the broader society is up as well, he said, and that is reflected in the Pentagon’s rise. “Part of it due to family stress, part of it due to drinking, part of it due to drugs, part of it due to financial stress and there are a whole series of issues that play a role in creating this kind of pressure.” He said he wished there were “a simple silver bullet that could deal with the problem,” but acknowledged there isn’t.

The Army’s former top psychiatrist senses another dynamic at play. “In recent years, I have seen a real fear on the part of soldiers that if they reveal that there is anything wrong, they will be the ones left behind,” Elspeth Ritchie, a Battleland contributor, said Monday. “Left behind literally, as the rest of the unit deploys. And thus left behind on promotion, and on retention.” That, she says, can push them over the edge.

This latest surge should come as no surprise. In 2010, the Pentagon’s own medical monitors said there was “a large, widespread, and growing mental health problem among U.S. military members.” In 2011, military doctors reported that suicidal thoughts had soared among military personnel hospitalized between 2006 and 2010. Last year, Pentagon doctors found that “in 2011 mental disorders accounted for more hospitalizations of U.S. service members than any other major category of diagnoses.” Hospitalizations for mental ailments, they noted, had jumped by more than 50% since 2007.

We wrote about suicide in the military before 9/11. But they were stories because they were so rare. Now they’re stories because they are so common.

MORE: Study: U.S. Military Suicide Rate Now Likely Double or Triple Civil War’s


As one suffering with PTSD (and I think suffering is the right word), here is my .02.  Veteran support groups like the VFW and American Legion were formed for vets and became a place to 'unwind' with others of like circumstances.  Today, even though the VFW and American Legion are out there, a young vet might feel out of place because of age, or showing 'weakness' to older vets.  When I asked my mental health professional (VA) for a PTSD group or success story, or a book, he had none.  

There is no shame in our circumstances; the shame is in our suffering without support.  Here is my idea (maybe already accomplished, just not widely known): use the power of the internet to connect with fellow vets (in your area by zip code) and create our own support groups like the VFW, but without the alcohol.  No alcohol because of the meds we have to take.  Alcohol was the medication for previous generations it seems to me, and going to a VFW and not having a beer... well, I feel out of place just thinking it.  

Anyway; I hope this idea is already out there (no alcohol groups for PTSD sufferers) and if not let's start one!


Suicide is also an effect of the SSRI drugs to manage depression.

In 2000, New York legislators recognized the ubiquitous and unambiguous connection between violence, especially gun violence and mass murder, and the widespread prescribed use of psychiatric drugs. Senate Bill 7035 was introduced in the New York State Senate that year requiring police agencies to report to the Department of Criminal Justice Services (DCJS) on certain crimes and suicides committed by a person who is using psychiatric drugs, including assault, homicide, sex offenses, robbery offenses, firearms and other dangerous weapons offenses, kidnapping and arson. The preamble to the bill read, in part:

There is a large body of scientific research establishing a connection between violence and suicide and the use of psychotropic drugs in some cases. This research, which has been published in peer reviewed publications such as the American Journal of Psychiatry, The Journal of the American Academy of Child and Adolescent Psychiatry, and The Journal of Forensic Science, has shown, among other things, that: certain drugs can induce mania (a psychosis which can produce bizarre, grandiose and highly elaborated destructive plans, including mass murder);. . .and certain drugs can produce an acute psychotic reaction in an individual not previously psychotic.

The bill died in committee. Since that time, there have been at least 12 additional high-profile mass murders linked to the use of psychiatric drugs, about one a year. And, in virtually every mass school shooting during the past 15 years, the shooter has been on or in withdrawal from psychiatric drugs.

Suicide is also an effect of the SSRI drugs to manage depression.

Yet, federal and state governments continue to ignore the connection between psychiatric drugs and murderous violence, preferring instead to exploit these tragedies in an oppressive and unconstitutional power grab to snatch guns away from innocent, law-abiding people who are guaranteed by the U.S. Constitution the right to own and bear arms to deter government tyranny and to use firearms in self defense against any miscreant who would do them harm. Therefore, it is pharmaceutical makers, not law-abiding gun owners or gun manufacturers, who should be held to account for the series of “lone-wolf,” mass shootings that have occurred since the widespread use of psychiatric drugs began.

Although it is doubtful any single variable can explain what causes someone to commit such unspeakable acts as we saw recently at Sandy Hook, one common denominator surfaces time and time again, in hundreds and hundreds of cases where a “lone wolf” commits violence, murder and mayhem for apparently no reason: Prescribed psychiatric drugs, which are well documented to induce mania, psychosis, violence, suicide and murder, including mass murder for no apparent reason by otherwise non-psychotic people.

Given the mass of supporting data linking psychiatric drug use/withdrawal and violence, and given the fact it has been ignored studiously by the U.S. Congress and federal agencies, it is well past time that Congress and state legislatures and government agencies at all levels formally investigate the well established link between prescribed use of psychiatric drugs, school shootings and similar acts of senseless violence.


Blame the generals, especially Petraeus who lied to Obama about 'winning' in Afghanistan even though he knew there was no chance. He told Obama that sending more troops would make things better. It didn't. It only extended deployments and got more people killed. Now we are faced with this epidemic of suicide brought on by the selfish DoD. 

These troops need therapy outside of the system. The DoD's therapist do not protect the privacy of military members, therefore, members are afraid to seek help. TRICARE won't pay for private therapy. This is a huge mistake. 


As always, Mr. Thompson, an excellent, thoughtful piece.  Ms Ritchie's point is quite on:  so many of the men talk of their fears of being separated--figuratively and literally--from their buddies (and their career) that have come to mean the world to them.  While I applaud DoD for doing all it can to try to reduce the stigma, on the ground and in the barracks, officials are facing a daunting challenge.  Keep up this top-notch reporting.


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