On Monday of last week (7/20), I attended a meeting of US the House Leadership and their allies on Capitol Hill. At the meeting, we learned that the Senate planned planned debate cuts in funding to the wasteful F-22 fighter plane. The very next day (7/21) the Senate successfully removed the F-22 funding from National Defense Authorization Act for Fiscal Year 2010 by a vote of 58 to 40. And, as anticipated, overall military funding did pass by 87 to 7 with 6 Senators abstaining.
For me, the meeting’s focal point centered on Representative Frank Kratovil (D-MD), who serves on the Armed Services committee, discussion about the alarming increase in the suicide rate of soldiers returning from Iraq and Afghanistan:
- In 2008, 143 soldiers committed suicide. This number, a record in the past three decades, can only be topped by the stunning numbers recorded as 2009 progresses.
- In January, nearly two dozen confirmed or suspected suicides are raising concerns about mental health conditions within the military.
- There have already been 88 suspected suicides in the first six months of this year, tromping the 67 which occurred between January and June of 2008.
- This means that the rate of suicide among the military is now higher than the civilian population, 20.2 per 100,000 versus 19.5 per 100,000 respectively.
- These numbers don’t include those who take their lives after they have already been discharged.
Experts identify many factors for the high number of suicides: multiple deployments, little time at home, the trauma of combat, and the stress of serving in two wars as the cause to these terrible tragedies. The factors behind these acts are extremely complex and deserve much more attention from the media and general public.
Though the military is investigating the cause of these acts, a more aggressive approach may be necessary. In the Huffington Post, Dr. Paul Ragan, an associate professor of psychiatry at Vanderbilt University and a former Navy psychiatrist explained that, “Occasional or sporadic visits by military mental health workers are like a Band-Aid for a gushing wound.”
Rep. Kratovil mentioned a need for stricter policies concerning face-to-fact exit interviews and psychological evaluations when discharge from the military. The need for progress on this issue is time-sensitive, as rates continue to increase each month.
If your Representative is on the Armed Services Committee (See here for the House Committee; and here for the Senate Committee) call and ask your representative to work with Rep. Kratovil and implement policies that will increase mental health support and reduce suicide rates for our retuning soldiers. As always, tell us about your conversation in the comment section below.