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Laughing Wolf has an absolutely on-target post on military suicide that you ought to read now. I’m quoting more extensively than I normally do because I don’t trust you SOBs to click the link:

Now, to the heart of the problem:  The troops trust DoD and the Army.  They trust them to be PC and to put them dead last.

When the general talked with us, part of that discussion revolved around the fact that whether it was PTS or suicide, that the Army response was to isolate and identify.  Anyone coming forward at that time for either could count on the following things happening:

1.  They would be relieved of all combat and most general duties and training.  They could count on being transferred to non-combat duties and units.  For troops with hearts and souls of warriors, there is no worse fate.  Further, it means that they were leaving their buddies behind and in the lurch.

If you haven’t been there, I tell you in all confidence that you really cannot comprehend what a barrier this is. We fight for our friends. We fight for the ability to continue fighting for our friends.

2.  They could count on steps being taken to keep them away from weapons on and off duty, to be put under watch and otherwise wrapped up so that they could do nothing.  Nothing bad, nothing good, and frankly nothing to help themselves.

In a combat zone, where everyone and their mother is armed, walking around in uniform but without a weapon is distinctly isolating.  If you can’t be trusted with a weapon, what good are you?  Why are you even in theater?  What is your purpose in even being alive right now?  And they expect this to help?

3.  Because they were under watch, what should be a private medical condition was public knowledge for all.  The shame and humiliation that comes with being labelled far and wide as “the nut” is huge, particularly for someone who is simply trying to deal with things (particularly constructively).

I don’t think they would spend so much time in suicide prevention briefings emphasizing how confidential the process is supposed to be if there weren’t a belated realization that this is a huge problem.  And, by everything I have read, it is still a huge problem.

4.  They could count on finding their career pretty well ended.  At least that was the perception, but as one looks at the number of public suicides by our veterans, and the sad tales of units where leadership turned their backs and left them behind, I can’t say it’s a false perception.

I’m not sure we can count on it; there have been cases where it didn’t happen, certainly.  But there have also been a number of high profile cases (CJ Grisham springs to mind) where coming forward with PTS issues causes a great deal of pain and frustration.  For someone already struggling with one enemy, the idea of taking on the risk- and publicity-averse Army leadership as well may be a bridge too far.

5.  They can also count on this following them into the civilian world, not only in terms of finding a job, but in legal entanglements ranging from not being able to get a carry permit to potential loss of visitation/custody in divorce settlements.

If you’ve read here for any length of time, it’s probably clear that I’m a big proponent of the natural right to means of effective self-defense, often abbreviated inaccurately to “gun rights.” That I could forever jeopardize that means simply by seeking help would absolutely be a factor in my decision on whether to do so.

So, pretend you’re a combat veteran for a moment and you are having trouble dealing with some issues.  Maybe you’re not entirely certain that you are “healthy and normal.”  Look at that list up above, and tell me that you trust the military health and command bureaucracies to take care of you in a compassionate, effective, and discrete manner.  If you tell me this, you’re an idiot.

Laughing Wolf hit the x-ring: “The troops trust DoD and the Army.  They trust them to be PC and to put them dead last.” Go read the whole thing.

You know what we need?  More studies.

The Rand Corporation, at the behest of the Office of the Secretary of Defense, took a look in 2011 on the various DoD programs for addressing suicide prevention.  The results were not encouraging.  A little publicized fact is that, compared to similar demographics among the general population (controlling for age, gender, etc.), the military suicide rate is actually substantially lower than the civilian rate (summary, p. xv).  The gap is narrowing dramatically, however, due largely to a doubling of suicides in the Army over the past few years.

Among Rand’s conclusions was that most of the programs do fairly well on “raising awareness” (which has limited effect) and identifying those at risk through gatekeepers, but have only mediocre-to-failing results when it comes to

  • facilitating access to quality care
  • delivering quality care
  • restricting access to lethal means
  • responding appropriately.

An aside on “lethal means”

I view “restricting access to lethal means” as a prevention factor with extreme skepticism.  Yes, it’s easier to kill yourself with a firearm (for example).  However, considering that we are institutionally devoted to killing people and breaking their stuff, the idea that you can effectively restrict our access to lethal means is both ludicrous and not giving us credit for having any imagination or creativity. And again, I’m not interested in allowing the Army to abridge my human rights in the interest of protecting me from myself; I simply don’t trust her judgment in this matter.  But obviously not everyone feels that way, so it’s probably worth having a conversation.

PowerPoint makes soldiers cry.

Despite their recommendations, I expect very little from Big Army other than additional PowerPoint presentations.  This. Does. Not. Help.  LW is absolutely right when he says that real solutions will have to come from within the ranks.  People who have been there, whether literally or emotionally (or both), need to reach out to those in need, and those in need must know that they have somewhere to go.

Taking care of soldiers by doing paperwork poorly

During my two-year stint in hell as the company Readiness NCO, we had several soldiers who were non-qualified; they lacked the school, or the security clearance, or something and were not actually providing value to the unit in the eyes of Big Army.

For one in particular, there was no clear path to getting her clearance resolved and it did not look like she would ever be DMOSQ with us.  By rights, I should have been either out-processing her from the National Guard or transferring her elsewhere to re-classify in some other specialty.

I did neither.  I’m not saying I intentionally ignored the rules and guidelines, but an awful lot of paper moves across that desk, and it’s powerfully easy for one or two low-motivation personnel issues to stay unresolved indefinitely.  Why?

Because she needed drill weekends.  I don’t know what her trip to Iraq was like (she went with someone else), but she clearly wasn’t done processing it.  She came to drill every month, on time and in uniform, to talk with people who Had Been There.  Maybe not literally with her on her deployment, but we had been somewhere, somewhen under similar circumstances and knew what it was about.  She was socially awkward, a little strange, and (on paper) not what the Army wanted for our company, but she did whatever we asked (be it moving paper or moving trucks) with enthusiasm.  When the time came, she ETSed.  I’m not sure what she is up to now, but I was much more comfortable letting her go “naturally” than I would have ever been kicking her out, and you will not convince me that we did wrong by it.

TL;DR

In war, you can only depend on the guy to the left and right.  After the war, it’s the same damned thing. Your duties to take care of your battle buddies do not end when you go home, sorry.

The best help I ever had was writing, talking, and (semi-moderate) drinking with friends. I do not trust Army-provided counsel, but I trust my NCOs, and I hope I’m the sort of NCO who is trusted.

I suspect that the most valuable service the veteran services organizations (VFW, etc.) could provide is the cheap beer and willing ear, and that this is probably of more use than several dozen overlapping suicide prevention programs within DoD.  Maybe that’s where the demobilization process needs to end up.

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