I was having trouble putting this number in context. Was it too high? Too low? How many suicides stemmed from the godawful pressures of fighting in an unpopular war against an elusive enemy?
I got the context I needed -- and then some -- from a shocking report by Daniel Zwerdling on National Public Radio on Monday evening:
I'll never know whether the number is accurate. Although upwards of 25 percent of the soldiers who have served in Iraq display symptoms of serious mental-health problems, Zwerdling reports that even the most suicidal can have trouble getting help and even get kicked out of the Army.This does not come entirely as a shock. The notion that "you have to be a man" and not admit to pain or emotional distress runs deep in the military psyche. While I did not expect my sergeant to kiss my boo-boo or read me a bedtime story, my one (non-combat) injury while serving in the Army was treated with disdain and ridiculule.
Zwerdling interviewed several former soldiers, including Tyler Jennings:
"Jennings says that when he came home from Iraq last year, he felt so depressed and desperate that he decided to kill himself. Late one night in the middle of May, his wife was out of town, and he felt more scared than he'd felt in gunfights in Iraq. Jennings says he opened the window, tied a noose around his neck and started drinking vodka, 'trying to get drunk enough to either slip or just make that decision.'There there is Corey Davis, who was a machine gunner in Iraq.
"Five months before, Jennings had gone to the medical center at Ft. Carson [in Colorado], where a staff member typed up his symptoms: 'Crying spells . . . hopelessness . . . helplessness . . . worthlessness.' Jennings says that when the sergeants who ran his platoon found out he was having a breakdown and taking drugs, they started to haze him. He decided to attempt suicide when they said that they would eject him from the Army.
" 'You know, there were many times I've told my wife -- in just a state of panic, and just being so upset -- that I really wished I just died over there [in Iraq],' he said. 'Cause if you just die over there, everyone writes you off as a hero.' "
"Davis says he began 'freaking out' after he returned to Ft. Carson, had constant nightmares and began using drugs. When he sought help at the base hospital one day, he says he was told he'd have to wait more than a month to be seen."Or Iraq war veteran Jason Harvey.
"In May, Harvey slashed his wrists and arms in a cry for help. Officials at Ft. Carson expelled him from the Army for "patterns of misconduct." Harvey had been diagnosed with post-traumatic stress disorder."As Zwerdling notes, the Army boasts of having terrific programs to care for soldiers, but the reality is far different.
And so a president betrays his country and the Army betrays its soldier. Oh what a lovely war!
Click here to read or hear the NPR report.