Pentagon downplays GI suicides
Published Feb 8, 2009 7:44 AM
The Pentagon reported in January that “Suicides among soldiers rose for
the fourth straight year, exceeding the rate for civilians for the first time
in decades.” (Associated Press, Jan. 29) A graph showed the
increase—from about 80 GI suicides in 2003 to almost 150 in 2008.
Despite this admission, the Pentagon was downplaying the suicide story. The
problem is much bigger, according to a new book by Iraq war correspondent Aaron
Glantz: “The War Comes Home: Washington’s Battle Against
A November 2007 CBS News investigation, says Glantz, found that 120 veterans
kill themselves every week–over 5,000 per year. Glantz cites internal
Veterans Administration documents validating these figures: “There are
about 18 suicides per day among America’s 25 million
veterans” of all wars, said the VA’s chief of mental health, Ira
Glantz says the Pentagon’s report, covering only active-duty GIs, is an
underestimate “in part because they only include confirmed suicides. Many
suicides are simply called accidents.” Garrett Reppenhagen, a former Army
sniper in Iraq, told Glantz a woman in his unit “died when she shot
herself in the chest with her M-16. The Army said it was an accident, but you
can’t accidentally shoot yourself in the chest with an M-16...
Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder afflicts nearly half a million Iraq and
Afghanistan war vets. It is a prime cause of suicide, accidental death, and
death at the hands of police—which some veterans provoke as a form of
Glantz tells of Sgt. James Dean, who was shot by Maryland state troopers on
Christmas night in 2006 while sitting alone in his father’s farmhouse.
Dean had returned home from 18 months in Afghanistan with what the VA diagnosed
as PTSD: “The patient states he feels very nervous, has a hard time
sleeping, feels nauseous in the a.m., and loses his temper a lot, ‘real
bad.’” The evaluation mentions that Sgt. Dean “was nearby an
explosion that destroyed a Humvee with four GIs killed in front of his eyes.
... The patient is tired of feeling bad.”
Dean “barricaded himself inside his farmhouse. ... He called his sister
and told her he ‘just couldn’t do it anymore’ and fired a
gunshot. Jamie’s sister called the emergency services hotline and the
police showed up in force. ... Just past midnight ... a police sharpshooter
shot Jamie Dean dead.”
It might have cost less, and saved a life, to mobilize a psychological crisis
team, but that’s not the police way, or the Army way.
According to Glantz, by August 2008 “the Pentagon listed more than 78,000
service members as wounded, injured or ill; 324,000 Iraq and Afghanistan
veterans had already visited a VA facility to receive health care for their
injuries, and close to 300,000 (more than 30 percent of eligible veterans) had
filed for disability.
“Physical brain damage is perhaps the most common injury; the RAND
Corporation estimates that more than 320,000 veterans have experienced
traumatic brain injury (TBI) while deployed in Iraq or Afghanistan. Many
observers call TBI the ‘signature injury’ of the Iraq War because
it happens so often after a soldier is hit with a gunshot or a blast from a
Rather than accept responsibility for the suffering of its veterans, the
military machine punishes them. Take the case of Specialist Shaun Manuel, who
was ordered to do a second tour in Iraq on the heels of losing his infant
Glantz tells the story: “Manuel never filed paperwork to medically excuse
himself from the deployment. Instead, he withdrew and buried himself in
alcohol. He estimates he drank three fifths of liquor a day. At one point, his
wife had to call the police during a domestic disturbance. In response, the
Army threw him in a local county jail and kicked him out of the military with a
bad-conduct discharge, which will deny him medical benefits he might have been
able to use to get his life back together again.”
The parents of Corporal Jeffrey Lucey of Belchertown, Mass., tell of filing a
lawsuit alleging “wrongful death, medical malpractice, pain and
suffering, and other damages” caused by the VA’s “negligence,
carelessness and lack of skill” in treating their son, who hanged himself
in his parents’ home in June 2004.
The Marine Corps had told Lucey’s parents it was “normal for
veterans to need some time to adjust after their return from the war
zone.” Lucey’s father said the Marine Corps told them,
“Whatever you do, don’t force them or pressure them to do something
they don’t feel comfortable doing.”
Maybe the whole military establishment and their civilian commanders should
memorize that warning. Perhaps members of the House and Senate should be
required to say it over and over again before passing legislation authorizing
the president to use troops overseas.
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