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Suicide is the Least Acknowledged Costs of War


The Army Times stated last week that military suicides make up about 20% of all suicides in the U.S. This clearly suggests that the problem is worse among the armed forces than in the general population yet this knowledge is unknown to many.

In fiscal year 2009, amongst those who had served in Afghanistan or served time in Iraq, there were 98 suicides and 1868 failed suicide attempts. This past January alone, there may have been as many as 24 suicides.

The number of Afghanistan and Iraq veterans who take their own lives every year has by far exceed the number of combat deaths, making mental health problems one of the most severe problems of war.

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According to TIME Magazine, suicide rates are higher among those who have been deployed, implying that the longer our soldiers are at war, the worse suicide rates will get among veterans.

Army officials claim that personal relationships seem to be the most common thread linking suicides. “The one transcendent factor that we seem to have, if there’s any one that’s associated with suicide is fractured relationships of some sort,” Lieut. General Eric Schoomaker, the Army surgeon general, told a Senate panel last month. What they fail to note, however, is the corrosive effect repeated deployments can have on such relationships. Ritchie pointed out in January that there are “higher rates of mental-health problems and marital problems for multiple deployers.”

New research suggests that repeated combat deployments seem to be driving the suicide epidemic. Many officials feel the only way to slow down the suicide rates is to reduce the number of deployments per soldier and extend what the Army calls “dwell time” which is the duration spent at home between trips to war zones.

In order to make that happen would be to expand the Army’s troop strength, or reduce the number of soldiers sent off to war. Surveys of troops reveal that mental health can fray after six or seven months of war, says Col. Carl Castro an Army psychologist and suicide researcher. "You start seeing huge differences in terms of depression scores, PTSD rates, all sorts of mental health issues," he says. "And I think it has to do with the separation from family and friends and that social support network."

For now, suicide is one of the least acknowledged costs of war and more research needs to be completed so that these brave Americans can survive the deadly effects of war.