Friday, October 1, 2010

Stress demons haunt military

If combat action in Afghanistan is tough going, another "enemy" is winning handily despite the military's efforts. Joint Chiefs Chair Adm. Mike Mullen declared an "emergency" this week in dealing with a record wave of suicides among stressed-out military personnel.

Five suicides last weekend at Fort Hood, Texas, the Army's largest facility, brought the post's monthly total to 20. One GI who took his life also shot and killed his wife. In all of last year, Fort Hood recorded 11 suicides. Two other suicides were reported over the weekend at Fort Polk., La. The overall suicide rate of 20 per 1,000 among the military is significantly higher than the national rate of 19 per 100,000.

If the suicide rate is disconcerting, perhaps more so is Adm. Mullen's prediction to expect an increase.

Unlike other U.S. wars, the military is overwhelmed by an epidemic of psychological, neurological and behavioral crises among troops—unwieldy increases in suicides and murders, spiraling divorce rates, drug use and combat-zone atrocities.

At least 25 percent of all returnees are suffering some phase of traumatic stress, some permanently. At the Department of Veterans Affairs, unprocessed claims for psychological and physical disabilities in the new wars exceed 400,000, up from 253,000 six years ago.

If preventive therapies have been inadequate, as a July report concluded, then more funds and personnel must be poured into solving these crises.

In addition, deploying GIs to Afghanistan time and time again surely is another source of inhuman stress the Pentagon cannot ignore.

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