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Friday, March 13, 2009

Army Learns Secrecy is Deadly When it Comes to Suicide

I'm still hunkered down doing research for my Honors Capstone paper -- the results of which have been accepted for presentation at a Purdue University conference in April). Thanks for your patience with me these dormant weeks and months...

Now on to Dina Greenberg at the Houston Chronicle:

The Department of the Army has finally gone public and acknowledged the alarming rate of suicide among its ranks. While Army leadership is to be commended for breaking the barrier of silence regarding mental illness in the military, the underlying culture of secrecy that has contributed to the current trend is in dire need of reform. ...

According to figures obtained by the Associated Press, there has been a steady increase in suicides since 2003, totaling 450 active duty soldiers, with the highest numbers occurring in the past year. Military suicides vary considerably between branches of the service, with the Army and Marine Corps frequently reaching the highest annual rates. Longer and more frequent deployments and the primacy of ground combat operations are factors often blamed for the Army’s higher rates of physical injury, mental illness and suicide.

In October 2008, the Army announced a five-year, $50 million collaborative study with the National Institute of Mental Health to address suicide. In a rare public admission of the urgency of the problem, Dr. S. Ward Cassells, assistant secretary of defense for health affairs, stated in the New York Times, “We’ve reached a point where we do need some outside help.” Such efforts are encouraging but will yield little immediate assistance to active duty soldiers, returning veterans and their families.

In educational interest, article(s) quoted from extensively.


It is notable that the Army only began keeping records on suicides in 1980, a policy likely fueled by the cascade of attempted and successful suicides by Vietnam veterans. In 1983, with the introduction of the diagnosis of Post Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD) in the American Psychiatric Association’s Diagnostic & Statistical Manual, the military and VA began, finally, to acknowledge the debilitating effects of this combat-related trauma reaction. Increased risk of suicide is among the many symptoms of the half-million Vietnam veterans diagnosed with chronic PTSD. Using the most conservative estimates, there may be as many as 75,000 active duty military or recently discharged veterans with PTSD or significant symptoms of PTSD, according to psychologist Alan Peterson of the University of Texas. Peterson is a researcher with a multidisciplinary consortium recently awarded a $25 million Department of Defense grant to study behavioral treatments for PTSD.

To date, there has been no comprehensive epidemiological study on military suicides resulting from PTSD. In 1988, however, the Centers for Disease Control presented congressional testimony, confirming 9,000 suicides among Vietnam combat veterans.

Amazing: There has not been a comprehensive epidemiological study done on military suicides as a result of PTSD as of this late date? I suppose if we don't study and quantify the problem, it is easier to dismiss -- and more difficult to treat as well.

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