Thursday, March 6, 2008

Executive Ignorance Causes Unintended Consequences & Inadequacy Confronting Them - But You Can Acutally Help This Time!

Having interned at the Suicide Prevention Action Network USA (SPAN USA), a suicide prevention and mental health rights advocacy nonprofit in Washington D.C., I have been aware of the sharp increases in active-duty soldier and veteran suicides for sometime now. However, though it seems to make sense to people who hear this for the first time, overall very few have noticed it as a consequence of fighting two detracted wars in Iraq and Afghanistan.

Why is it that we always count the bodies which have been bruised, battered, and broken, but all too often not the minds and spirits? One could ask, what good is a healthy body if the mind is ill? Moreover, one should ask, what good is the America government, if it leaves millions of its best and brightest citizens (acknowledging the friends and families of these soldiers), to suffer in the darkest recesses of the human mind?

The truth is, according to the Washington Post, "Suicides among active-duty soldiers in 2007 reached their highest level since the Army began keeping such records in 1980." In addition, the Post reports, "the number of attempted suicides or self-inflicted injuries in the Army has jumped sixfold since the Iraq war began. Last year, about 2,100 soldiers injured themselves or attempted suicide compared with about 350 in 2002." This means that close to half the number of soldiers who have died fighting the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan, which the Post reports is now at 4,441, have experienced "attempted suicides or self-inflicted injuries." This is astonishing.

What is essential to point out about these figures, though it may seem counterintuitive, is that "Historically, suicide rates tend to decrease when soldiers are in conflicts overseas," notes the Washington Post. So, what is happening today is unprecedented: the suicides of soldiers are increasing while they are in conflicts overseas. Unfortunately, history has not done a full 180, and suicide rates tend to rise when troops return, especially after second, third, and fourth duties. Therefore, if one follows this to its logical conclusion, the likelihood that these figures are going to continue rising as troops come home in the next 18 months or so, assuming Barack or Hillary become President, spells a real mental health crisis for America's next generation of veterans. It also warrants an immediate call to action.

Is there going to be a repeat from, say, Vietnam, where vets get slighted for mental illness, and suicide attempts. Are we going to consciously deny necessary care for what certainly are now medically and scientifically recognized diseases, increasing rates of homelessness and crime, all the while boosting the already strained prison and mental institution populations?

Or, is there going to be an alleviation of stigma, of unrelenting character attacks on those with legitimate and treatable illnesses, and a dramatic increase in funds for the VA mental health systems, and a foundation of social networks and outreach programs to give a significant portion of the next American generation a chance to enjoy a life beyond that of military service?

If you're reading this, you are part of the decision, you cannot claim ignorance, as have a multitude of government officials up until mold (really a symbol) was exposed at Walter Reed Hospital. You can willfully click off this page and simply say 'boy this is a sad story,' allowing the first scenario a chance of realization. Or, you can go here, and at least let your Congresspersons know that our troops should not have to find a battle waiting for them at home. Help America's best interests of human rights and social stability be realized.

The article I just read that sparked this posting is here:

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