Bullet Wisdom

I am an Active Duty Officer in the US Army. I am a Husband, father, writer, hunter, gamer, and SOLDIER. This blog is a forum for my many hobbies as well as my random musings.

Wednesday, January 30, 2008

Soldier Suicide Rates Rising

Newsflash: We suck at psychiatric care. This is not a new problem. I only need to look so far as the previous generation of warriors from Vietnam and much of their publicized problems with Post-Traumatic Stress disorder. If you have ever seen an Oliver Stone movie, you would know he is a poster child for PTSD. Last night, I read an article published by MSNBC titled, Soldier suicides reach record level, study shows. I didn't like any of what I read.

The article highlights the Army's struggle to deal with rising rates of suicide among Soldiers. It cites examples of Iraq veteran's attempting suicide despite the "best" efforts of their doctors and chain of command. An Army study on the issue cited the need for improved training programs as well as an increase in treatment capacity. I cannot judge the actions of other leaders, but I do understand the culture that is the basis of the problem.

The bottom line is that throughout the history of the U.S. Army, our Warrior culture has failed to address and meet the psychiatric care requirements of our Soldiers. More often than not Commanders choose to push 'troubled' Soldiers out of the Army and onto the beleaguered shoulders of the Veteran's Administration. There is negative stigma attached to psychiatric treatment. It is a question on the generic security clearance questionnaire. The implied message: get treated for being 'mental' and your career is over.

Personally, I believe the answer lies more in capacity than training. Like any problem, the military chooses to throw leadership at a problem to make up for lack of resources. In this case, the first recommendation is additional 'training.' Like the majority of added mandatory 'training', it would be extremely difficult and taxing for unit leadership to shoulder the burden of improving the Army's psychiatric care issues and add to their already overwhelming workload.

Honestly, do we want our commanders to be a Dr. Phil’s, feeling their way through problems, or George Patton's, going out and winning our nation's wars. I'm sure the correct answer is both; however you could spend a lifetime doing one or the other. Doing well at both would take more talent than most individuals possess.

The problem will get worse before it gets better. Today's Soldier faces more trigger-time while on deployment than any Soldier in American history. Wars used to be fought as campaigns. Weeks and months of fighting were followed by months of convalescence and reconstitution. Today's Soldier trains, deploys, patrols, fights, trains, deploys, and fights again. There is no more "R&R" of old. The wire is always wound tight.

I don't know the answer. We are the most lethal force in history facing one of our nation's greatest security challenges. We will accomplish the mission, of that I have little doubt. How we care for our wounded after the fight ends?

I haven't a clue.

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