Kudos to NY Times columnist Nick Kristof for this:
Here’s a window into a tragedy within the American military: For every soldier killed on the battlefield this year, about 25 veterans are dying by their own hands.
An American soldier dies every day and a half, on average, in Iraq or Afghanistan. Veterans kill themselves at a rate of one every 80 minutes. More than 6,500 veteran suicides are logged every year — more than the total number of soldiers killed in Afghanistan and Iraq combined since those wars began…..
One reason for veteran suicides (and crimes, which get far more attention) may be post-traumatic stress disorder, along with a related condition, traumatic brain injury. Ryan suffered a concussion in an explosion in Iraq, and Michael finally had traumatic brain injury diagnosed two months ago.
Estimates of post-traumatic stress disorder and traumatic brain injury vary widely, but a ballpark figure is that the problems afflict at least one in five veterans from Afghanistan and Iraq. One study found that by their third or fourth tours in Iraq or Afghanistan, more than one-quarter of soldiers had such mental health problems.
Preliminary figures suggest that being a veteran now roughly doubles one’s risk of suicide. For young men ages 17 to 24, being a veteran almost quadruples the risk of suicide, according to a study in The American Journal of Public Health.
I’ve never served in the military, and don’t have anyone in my extended family currently in uniform, but I’ve been talking about this subject on and off for the last decade with people like Paul Reickhoff of Iraq and Afghanistan Veterans of America and former Senator Kit Bond, whose son Sam did two tours in Iraq as a Marine officer. Yesterday, David Wood of the Huffington Post won a Pulitzer for his 10-part series on wounded veterans. They have gotten the Veterans Administration to do better, but it’s still not good enough.
The VA continues to be under-funded and mismanaged, which is why we have a veterans hospital in St. Louis that is still dirty and dangerous. Two years after it was discovered that dental instruments weren’t being sterilized — exposing 1,800 veterans to HIV, hepatitis, and other viruses — not much has changed, despite a Congressional investigation, repeated inspections, and a federal report full of recommendations for improvement. One inspection even found rust on equipment in an operating room, which was then shut down.
The fact that we “support the troops” when they have boots on the ground in another country but ignore their problems when they return home is nothing less than shameful. It’s hypocritical, demoralizing, and un-American.