Posted by: twotrees | November 7, 2010

The GDP of war…

In today’s L.A. Times, Steve Lopez writes about another, less well-known, product of waging war – suicide.  He tells of a short film to illustrate the fact that a substantial number of recent American war veterans are so despondent that they either attempt or complete committing suicide.  According to Lopez, the VA  reported that in the 12 months period ending in Sept. 2009, there were 1,868 suicide attempts made by men and women who have served in Iraq and Afghanistan.  98 of them died. 

If you’re paying attention to the news, you know that roughly 5,700 American soldiers have been killed in Iraq and Afghanistan during these conflicts.  What’s harder to find is the number of injured.

According to David Wood of Politicsdaily.com “Missing from most official accounts of casualties are those who are medically evacuated from the war zone for injury or disease. Such cases range from severe malaria to eye infections from blowing sand. The Defense Department does not publicly acknowledge these medical evacuees, but the Veterans for Common Sense, a Washington-based veteran’s advocacy group, pried the number from the Pentagon with a Freedom of Information request. As of Jan. 2, that number stood at 37,732 from Iraq and 8,712 from Afghanistan.

What’s clean is that there are tens of thousands of veterans that have been injured.  Of that amount, an unknown number are likely to have mental anguish and trouble adjusting to civilian life.  Many have been injured physically.  Many have been afflicted mentally and some of those need help in an effort to cope with life among us.  Could they be ticking time bombs?

It’s worth watching the short film on YouTube to get a glimpse.

And if you want to read an interesting piece by David Wood on other effects of the war on our soldier’s, like this “Today, more than 100,000 soldiers are on prescribed anti-anxiety medication, and 40,000 are thought by the Army to be using drugs illicitly. Misdemeanor offenses are rising by 5,000 cases a year.”  Read it here:  http://www.politicsdaily.com/2010/10/17/combat-stress-driving-up-army-crime-drug-abuse-suicides/

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Responses

  1. I’d hesitate before getting worked up about ~100 suicides in a year among the several million who are now veterans of Iraq and Afghanistan.

    Is that really a higher than the general population?

    • Dear Wanderer: In the year 2000, the military suicide rate was half of the civilian suicide rate, mainly due to the fact the military screens out the unfit. By 2009, the military suicide rate was higher than the civilian rate. In 2007 (the most recent data available), for younger veterans, the suicide rate was three to four times higher than the civilian suicide rate. The number of suicides may be more than 100 per year in the Army, yet remember these two points. First, when on soldier completes suicide, he or she triggers enormous guilt and mental health among dozens, if not hundreds, of fellow soldiers in the unit who see or clean up the scene. Those soldiers and veterans then further question the reason for the war (it was started based on lies), and most go without mental health treatment, and their risk of suicide increases. And, second, for a few months in early 2010, our troops experienced more battlefield suicides than deaths by enemy action. The morale of our troops is crumbling. In addition, the leadership has failed by continuing the lost war and by not providing enough mental health professionals. In some cases, the military provided chaplains who sought to convert distraught troops, further exacerbating mental health symptoms. All in all, the suicide epidemic among our troops and veterans is a significant personnel issue, and it is a symptom of low morale and failed leadership.

  2. Thanks for the feedback Lenny. An April 2009 report by the Rand Coporation ( http://www.rand.org/news/press/2008/04/17/) states that 1.6 million had served 2001-April 2008 and that 20% of these had suffered PTSD. Not sure how the numbers have changed since then but if similar, there are hundreds of thousands of vets that suffer from stress. I think you’ll agree that that’s a higher percentage than the general population.
    The point is that there are a lot of people coming back stateside that are not doing well and need help. More help is needed…

    • Dear Two Trees – the new, revised PTSD estimate is 35 percent, according to a study by professor Wein at Stanford University. His higher rate is based on the long latency period for developing PTSD, and the fact that 40 percent of the 2.1 million troops sent to the war zone deployed twice or more. All told, 1.2 million of those deployed are now veterans eligible for VA care. Of our veterans, 600,000 have been treated at VA already, including 300,000 mental health patients. These figures exclude veterans treated by the military or by private doctors outside VA. That means as of June 2010, one in four Iraq / Afghanistan war veterans, who enlisted healthy, were already treated for a mental health condition after returning home from the war.

  3. Twotrees, I’m with you on it being a sad thing.

    I’m interested in taking a stab at putting it in perspective:

    By my calculation, 10 per 100,000 Americans overall committed suicide in 2009. [33,000 (suicide.org)/300,000,000]

    Assuming ~100 veteran suicides / 1.6 million veterans, that’s 6 per 100,000.

    So it seems veterans are -less- likely to commit suicide. Now, the PTSD issue is something else altogether and is obviously much worse than the general population.


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