A growing number of soldiers are casualties of deep and painful wounds that can be hard or impossible to see until too late. These are the emotional and psychological wounds that are leading a rising number of American troops to take their own lives.
Pentagon statistics show that suicides among active-duty troops are coming at the rate of about one a day: As of June 7, there had been 154 active-duty military suicides in the first 155 days of this calendar year. The trend and the odds say that tragic number has grown in the three days since.
A really frightening aspect of this trend, as if it weren’t frightening enough, is that the statistics include only active-duty troops. It doesn’t include vets home from combat in Afghanistan or Iraq, or National Guard and Reserve members not currently mobilized. Those numbers would swell the already tragic toll.
Besides suicide, there are the other familiar results of emotional trauma —— substance abuse, domestic and/or sexual violence, divorce.
An Army report in January alluded to “increased stress after a decade of war,” but most of us, and certainly the nation’s military families, don’t need a Pentagon report to tell us that. Two long wars have demanded some extreme sacrifices from the less than one-half of 1 percent of Americans who serve, and from their families.
Some of the problem is rooted in the warrior culture and image — the fear that talking about emotional or psychological problems and asking for help is a sign of weakness that will jeopardize a soldier’s career.
There is, sadly, no foolproof way to prevent people from harming themselves. But the whole country, military and civilian, needs to be more alert to danger signs, and to make it clear to soldiers that they are not weak or soft or cowardly for seeking help.
They have, in fact, already proven otherwise by volunteering to serve their country. We need to do a much better job of serving them.