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Suicides – another casualty of war

April 28, 2008

by Kristen Miller

We all know war is an ugly thing. Watching the evening news and hearing of US casualties is no surprise to us anymore. We just hope and pray it’s no one we know.

The Iraq War, for us here at home, is becoming commonplace. It’s not news anymore. We get up every day, we go to work, we come home, eat supper, watch TV, and go to bed. Life can seem so mundane at times.

With extended tours of duty and a seemingly unending war, a US soldier in Iraq would give anything for a lazy Sunday in Minnesota.

Unfortunately for those men and women returning home, the war doesn’t end when they leave Iraq.

The war follows them home to their families, their work, and their social lives. If they are lucky, they won’t be one of the one-third returning home from Iraq or Afghanistan who suffer from Post Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD).

PTSD can occur after witnessing or experiencing a traumatic event. Symptoms associated with PTSD can include clinical depression, insomnia, hyper-vigilance, emotional numbing, recurring nightmares, and intrusive thoughts.

Often times, PTSD victims are more likely to abuse alcohol and drugs. It can lead to unemployment, family problems, and even suicide.

The US Department of Veterans Affairs is being accused by veterans rights groups for not doing enough for our returning soldiers.

E-mails are also being used against Veterans Affairs for allegedly hiding suicide and attempted suicide numbers and therefore “deceiving the American public,” according to CBS News.

Dr. Ira Katz, head of VA’s Mental Health, told CBS there had been 790 attempted suicides among VA patients in 2007. Katz contradicted this when, in a private e-mail to his media advisor, he admitted there were about 1,000 attempted suicides a month under VA care.

That’s a big difference.

Go figure the VA would hide shocking information like this. It would only lead to even more opposition of the war in Iraq and cost more money associated with it.

According to CBS data collected from 2005, the rate of suicide among veterans that year was 18.7 to 20.8 per 100,000, and 8.9 per 100,000 for non-veterans.

Rates were shown to be even higher for veterans aged 20 through 24, or those who have served post 9/11.

Suicides among veterans in this age group are estimated to be two to four times higher than civilians of the same age.

The suicide rate among 20- to 24-year-old veterans was found to be between 22.9 and 31.9 per 100,000, while the rate among civilians the same age is 8.3 per 100,000.

If the government wants its people to fight this war, they need to be willing to take care of their mental needs when they get home. This goes far beyond receiving a check every month.

According to the Iraq Coalition Casualty Count, there have been a total of 4,040 US military deaths since the Iraq War began, six years ago last month. In Afghanistan, 494 US soldiers have been killed since 2001.

Among the country’s 25 million veterans, about 6,570 take their own life each year, which amounts to 18 a day.

PTSD is proving to be more dangerous to our soldiers than the war itself. Granted, the stated numbers include all veterans not just the ones who served in Iraq or Afghanistan.

Even knowing these numbers, Katz did nothing about them except cover them up.

He e-mailed CBS and wrote that the numbers weren’t released because there were questions about the consistency and reliability of the findings and that there was no cover up.

Yet in an e-mail to his top media advisor, which was titled “Not for the CBS News Interview Request,” he admitted the data collected by CBS was indeed accurate.

Hmm, sounds fishy to me.

Then, at the end of the e-mail to his media advisor, he wrote, “Is this something we should (carefully) address . . . before someone stumbles on it?”

This appears to be a cover-up to me.

Well, someone did stumble upon it and maybe now something can be done to improve the mental health assistance our veterans need.

If the government wants our soldiers to fight this war, they need to help them recover from it when they return home.