Silent Moves: Military Suicide

Silent Moves:  Military Suicide

Juan Gelman

It occurs in isolation and secrecy among the U.S. troops who fight or fought in wars launched by W. Bush and Barack Obama. June was the cruelest month: 32 soldiers killed themselves, a number higher than any month of the war in Vietnam. Eleven were not active and seven of the remaining ones were fulfilling service in Iraq and / or Afghanistan. These are official figures (, 07/10/1915). In 2009, 245 troops took their own life and that number will be exceeded this year: 145 committed suicide in the first half and 1,713 tried without success. The rate is higher than for the U.S. civilian population.

A military spokesman, Tim Embree, testified February 25 before the Committee on Veterans Affairs of the House of Representatives. He stated on behalf of the 180,000 American Veterans/associates in Iraq and Afghanistan (IAVA, for its acronym in English), countries that they were sent to fight in twice. "Last year more killed themselves with their own hands more effectively than those who fell in combat in Afghanistan, he pointed out. Most of us know someone who did it upon returning home and the figures do not even include those who commit suicide at the end of their service: they are outside the system and their deaths are often overlooked "(/ /, 15 - 7-10). Perhaps they were not human beings, just disposable material.

Embree recalled the figures published by the weekly Army Times, which reports news of the military and career opportunities in the institution: "18 veterans commit suicide every day and a monthly average of 950 attempted suicides were recorded among veterans who receive some type of treatment from some corresponding federal department (, 10/04/1926)." They are all veterans of U.S. foreign wars fought in foreign lands and they suffer, in general, from PTSD. Before it was called shell shock or battle fatigue or shock and even other names. PTSD combines all of them.

The monthly publication Archives of General Psychiatry announced an independent investigation of 18,300 soldiers tested at three months and at one year of being sent to Iraq: from 20 to 30 percent suffered from PTSD and deep depression overwhelmed up to 16 percent (/ /, June 2010). It explains the difficulty of veterans to reintegrate into civilian life, the violence in the home which it leads to, broken marriages, drug addiction and suicides. At the end of 2009, according to figures from the government's Department of Veterans Affairs, more than 537 thousand of the 2.04 million who served in Iraq and Afghanistan asked for medical attention (, February 2010).

The difficulty is compounded because they return to a country with rising unemployment. According to research by the IAVA, 14.7 percent of the veterans are unemployed, 5 percent above the national average (/ /, 02/04/1910). There is an increase in the numbers of those who have lost their homes. A report by the National Coalition for the Homeless shows that 33 percent live in the open on the street and half a million are at risk of homelessness due to poverty and lack of official support (, September 2009). These figures do not include the numbers of those physically incapacitated to look for and to maintain work.

George and Kevin Lucey, parents of a soldier who took his life, were one of the many stories that the numbers conceal. On June 22, 2004, their son Jeff, 23, was found hung in the basement (, 08/09/1910). He was just out of the Marine Corps and had returned from Iraq in July of the previous year. The mother reported that a month from participating in the invasion he sent letters to his girlfriend in which he spoke of "immoral things" that he was doing. Once at home, Jeff began to drop disconnected phrases about Nasiriya, the city southeast of Baghdad which was the first major battle of the invaders against the regular Iraqi army. One day he told his sister Amy with tears in his eyes that he was a murderer. Before committing suicide, he left the dog tags on his bed of two Iraqi troops who were killed while unarmed. Jeff used to look at them frequently.

Psychiatrists and psychologists have no military experience and lack the knowledge to treat these ailments. Mark Russell, Marine commander that specializes in mental illness, found that 90 percent of staff performing these functions do not have the necessary training to deal with the PTSD. They were simply limited to prescribing drugs like Paxil, Prozac or Neurontin, that actually worsen or produce symptoms, just to be able to return the soldiers to their units (www.usatoday, 17/01/1907).

On Monday, President Obama told a convention of disabled veterans in Atlanta that his government was doing its utmost to prevent suicide and other consequences of PTSD. For the father of Jeff, this is pure hypocrisy.



Translated from the Spanish version by:



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Author`s name Oksana Orlovskaya