Where are we?
When it comes to military suicides and the record breaking year of 2012 we read the numbers but have forgotten each one represents a family left behind and many more wondering what they did wrong. When you only read numbers going up, it is easy to forget about how many lives these deaths affect.
2003 Army 79 26 while deployed
2004 Army 67 13 while deployed
2005 Army 87 25 while deployed
2006 Army 99 30 while deployed
(Army Suicide Prevention Program Fact Sheet, Army Public Affairs, August 17, 2007)
2007 Army 115 36 while deployed (50 deployed prior to suicide and 29 not deployed)
The following is from the Department of Defense Suicide Event Report.
Air Force Suicides Confirmed and Pending (2011 page 93)
2011 50 241 Airmen who attempted suicide in 251 separate incidents.
Army Confirmed and Pending Suicides (2011 page 128)
Suicide attempts 570
Of the 140 suicides, 34 (24%) occurred in OIF-OEF. One hundred sixteen suicide attempts (12%) were reported to have occurred in OIF-OEF. Nineteen percent of Soldiers with completed suicides, and 14% of Soldiers with suicide attempts, had a history of multiple deployments to Iraq and/or Afghanistan. Of suicide events reported as occurring in theater, the majority was reported to have occurred in Iraq.
2009 164 Army DoDSERs Submitted for Non-Fatal Events 2,047 Army DoDSERs for non-fatal events were submitted for 2009. Of these, 502 (25%) were submitted for suicide attempts, 347 (17%) for instances of self-harm without intent to die, and 1198 (59%) for suicidal ideation only
2010 160 DoDSERs provide data on suicide attempts for 400 individuals. Two attempts were reported (DoDSERs submitted) for 11 (2.75%) individuals, and three for one individual (0.25%). Additionally, four Soldiers with a 2010 suicide attempt DoDSER subsequently died by suicide in 2010 and were also included in the preceding section.
2011 167 440 DoDSERs for 2011 Army suicide attempts. As indicated in Table 5.29, these DoDSERs provide data on suicide attempts for 432 individuals. Two suicide attempt DoDSERs were submitted for 8 (1.85%) individuals 2011 Army suicide attempts 432 individuals with 440 attempts
Marines Confirmed and Pending
2011 156 Marines who attempted suicide in 157 separate incidents
Navy Confirmed and Pending
2011 87 Navy suicide attempts
Department of Defense Suicide Event Report for 2011
For 2011 there were 935 attempted suicides in the military with 915 individuals trying to kill themselves. 896 tried once, 18 tried twice and 1 tried three times.
These are the deaths from suicides for 2012.
Army National Guards 96
Army Reserves 47
Air Force 59
492 total reported suicides from one year alone.
The DOD Suicide Event Report for 2012 has not been released yet but according to the DOD they expect the numbers to go up when they put all the data together.
How did we get here?
Oh, that one is the one that bothers me the most.
When you think that after billions have been spent every year and countless efforts made including the stunning fact there are over 900 programs, yet arrive with more suicides, that should be screaming across every headline in this country.
In 2006 there were more than 500,000 veterans with pending claims and of those 100,000 were over a year old without resolution according to the VA. By March of 2007, the Boston Globe reported that the backlog of claims had gone from 69,000 in 2000 to 400,000 in 2007 taking 177 days to process an original claim and 657 days to process an appeal. The news got worse with a staggering 915,000 in 2009 with 803,000 with the Board of Appeals.This is what 2007 looked like.
“Backlogs are at the point where veterans must wait an average of six months for a decision on benefits claims and some veterans are waiting as long as four years,” number of unprocessed veterans claims exceeds 915,000 — a 100,000 jump since the beginning of the year.” (Have VA Pay old claims automatically, Rick Maze, Marine Corps Times, June 30, 2009)
In the past 18 months, 148,000 Vietnam veterans have gone to VA centers reporting symptoms of PTSD "30 years after the war," said Brig. Gen. Michael S. Tucker, deputy commanding general of the North Atlantic Regional Medical Command and Walter Reed Army Medical Center. He recently visited El Paso.There was the Suicide Prevention Hotline taking calls and making "rescues" even when the number of suicides went up.
Veterans Affairs officials say prioritizing war-on-terror veterans is necessary because many of them face serious health challenges. But they don't agree that other veterans will suffer, saying that they are hiring thousands of new employees, finding ways to train them more quickly and streamlining the process of moving troops from active duty to veteran status. (Two-tiered system of healthcare, Chris Roberts, El Paso Times, October 8, 2007)
“Call volume has grown, from 67,350 in 2008, the center’s first full year of operation, to 193,507 last year. But the percentage of rescue calls — those calls for which emergency responders get involved — has declined, from a high of 4.26 percent in 2010 to 2.7 percent in the first months of this fiscal year.” (Reported on Syracuse.com Dave Tobin, February 17, 2013.)This is perhaps the most troublesome of all. “VA has been underfunded for years; for FY2007, the Bush Administration requested almost $4 billion less in VA funding than the amount suggested by major veterans’ organizations. In early 2007, Congress made veterans’ health care a priority, increasing the funding for veterans’ health care by $3.6 billion.” (IAVA 2008 Congressional Report Card)
According to the American Federation of Government Employees, the VA employed 1,392 Veterans Service Representatives in June 2007 compared to 1,516 in January 2003. Did they think about what would have happened if after the troops were being sent into a second war, the VA was prepared to take care of them with their claims as well as their wounds? Would older veterans have suffered even longer than they already had? Would it have helped to know all their years of fighting to make sure PTSD was treated for all veterans was worthy of their efforts?
VA has been underfunded for years; for FY2007, the Bush Administration requested almost $4 billion less in VA funding than the amount suggested by major veterans’ organizations.
“Clearly, the current funding process is broken. The VA had a $3 billion shortfall in veterans’ health care in fiscal years 2005 and 2006. The waiting list for new veterans’ health care appointments doubled in a year. The current backlog of benefit claims is approaching 400,000.
Staffing levels and training have not kept pace with the number or complexity of claims. Large numbers of retirements among older, more experienced claims adjudicators have worsened the current workforce crisis. By VA’s own estimates, new Veterans Service Representatives (VSRs) require several years of on-the job training to become fully competent.” (AFGE 2007)
Then there are the billions spent every year on "Resilience" training. Many experts have come out and said that this attempt does not work but instead of learning from the numbers, they pushed the programs.
You can read the rest in the book.
I track reports from across the country and readers of Wounded Times know that I only track verifiable reports from newspapers, government sites and academic media. This book gives the sites and the dates of the reports. If you look at the date of the report, 90% of them came from Wounded Times. You can go to the achieve on the sidebar, find the date you are looking for and then you'll find the links to where the reports came from. Some of them may not be active any longer but as of 6 months ago when I started writing THE WARRIOR SAW, SUICIDES AFTER WAR, most of the links still worked.
What can be done?
There are things that have to happen right now.
End Resilience Training. I have been screaming about that since it started.
Start to use the same kind of training Crisis Intervention Specialist use so they will know how to respond after an event right away. There is too much of a crisis going on right now and no time to play catchup. They can be trained in a week to know how to respond and have a basic understanding of the difference between mental illness and anxiety caused by trauma. They will also be able to do what police and firefighters have been doing for a very long time. It will not prevent all cases of PTSD but it will prevent a lot of them.
Get the families involved because they are the support system for them when they come home. Too many families have no clue what to watch out for, what PTSD is or what to do about it.
Get clergy involved because if you do not understand that this is in fact a "moral injury" then you are part of the problem. This is not a new idea. Jonathan Shay wrote about it in Achilles in Vietnam.
The fact is that PTSD has been researched for over 40 years. None of this had to happen but the wrong people were listened to and the right people were forgotten about.
You can also read it on Kindle now.