More U.S. Troops Died by Suicide Than in Afghanistan Combat in 2012
After a decade of war, more servicepeople died by their own hand last year than were killed in action with the enemy. Watch Ray Suarez’s interview with Dr. psychiatrist and retired U.S. Army Brig. Gen. Stephen Xenakis; interview highlights below.
Q: Why now? Why is the suicide rate going up when the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan have been winding down?
A: We have seen this before. We saw it 20 years ago in the first Gulf War. We even in some ways saw it after Vietnam. I mean, the issues of medical health, of personal stress, of family stress, in fact, go up after the actual fighting has stopped and the soldiers redeploy, they’re back in garrison, because the force is still under a lot of stress.
And we find now, in fact, that the military is about to get into this phase of downsizing. Probably 100,000 or so Army soldiers and Marines will be leaving the military. There are going to be budget cuts. And all these things are putting great burden on the leadership and great burden on the soldiers on the front lines.
And that accumulates and builds, and it ends up that you have got that group that, in fact, will have — will commit suicide as their expression of that stress.
Q: If someone reports they are having trouble, are they given long-term treatment, or are they removed from the service first?
A: Well, both. Interestingly, and sadly, over half the people who commit suicide have already seen mental health clinicians…These are tough problems. The soldiers have…really been affected by a number different stresses.
It’s not just the emotional stress of combat and seeing their fellow soldiers killed and maimed. They have been exposed to IED blasts, have concussions. Their sleep patterns are very disturbed, which causes in of itself some sort of psychiatric and psychological difficulties.
They’re exposed to toxins. They come home to family situations. And they’re young people. And young people have a lot of ups and downs. So there’s lots of different factors here. And no one is the real particular cause for these suicides.
Q: So, what should we be on the lookout for? Is there any way that’s reliable to keep an eye on people who may be in real trouble when they come back from active duty?
A: There’s not one real technique or tactic you can use. What we should recognize is that this is an epidemic, in the sense that it’s across the Army. The whole Army has been — and Marine Corps and the other services under — have been a lot of stress. And the focus, I think, is on changing the culture and making and bringing the spotlight on to the individual and everyone being concerned for the kinds of stresses that they’re showing and that may lead to the various problems.
I mean, there are problems with misconduct, with family abuse, with drug and alcohol abuse, with sexual assaults. There’s all sorts of things that really end up being the signals of these 10 years of war and stress on the individuals.”
Video: The Wilderness After War — Living with PTSD