OP-ED: Troops' Mental Health Is Off the Nation's Radar

By Joseph J. Honick
Joseph J. Honick
Joseph J. Honick

There were 160 active-duty Army suicides in the year from Oct. 1, 2008, to Sept. 30, 2009, according to a Pentagon report released July 29. Then a headline on the New York Times August 1 front page tells us: "Afghan strategy has fresh focus: targeted killing."

And, by the way, men (and women, too), after you have done targeted killing, be sure to be nice to your family and neighbors when you get home … if you do.

If you think this madness is something new, think again.  Seven years ago, the Baltimore Sun published an article titled:  "Army's Suicide Rate Has Outside Experts Alarmed." 

Military bigwigs and armchair wizards assert they will have to look into this pattern! 

Look into it? Has it not occurred to them until now that -– whatever one thinks of these endless conflicts into which we have delivered our men and women -– the deployments and redeployments  from home and family, the driving pressures to annihilate people and property, and all the rest naturally have taken their toll on even grizzled military veterans in ways we cannot imagine.

Even if we supported this mindless war without end, we cannot countenance the idea there are hardly any ways to rotate troops in any logical way. Why? There is no draft to bring eligible citizens involuntarily to join in this combat. 

If there were still a draft, it is doubtful even an apathetic public would have accepted a conflict for which there is no declared national commitment, even though we have spent more than a billion dollars on private PR firms literally to hype the war at home and abroad.  

And we have no draft because the late President Richard Nixon was persuaded to sign a law creating the all-volunteer armed forces, thus dividing the American society into a military and civilian population.

Now we have come full and disastrous circle where, if you add each year's statistics, hundreds of young men have taken their own lives, and the folks who sent them to war are at a loss to figure out why.

Compounding this alarming reality are the orders now to make damned sure every kill is strategic -– but do kill -– and when relieved, just go home and take some time off. 

Well, on that score we have found that returning veterans, thousands of them with Post Traumatic Stress Syndrome (PTSD), are poorly treated if at all and often take out their problems on the very people they yearned to see again. Or they take their own lives as they are not competent to handle civilian existence again.

And so we return to the kind of newscast blip noted at the beginning of this piece. There are no political candidates voicing even the slightest concern over these issues in this pivotal election year.

Given the unusual economic realities of war and recession at the same time, it is doubtful many will take up the plights of men and women who have been sacrificed for the cloudiest of reasons.

For those of us who have been in the military and seen many not return, we know there is a need for two things: fast and critical change of policy, and an apathetic public to rise up against the terrible realities confronting our men and women in combat.

A couple of years ago I wrote an impassioned piece about the need to support our troops. I still believe in that necessity.

I wish our government showed it felt the same way.

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Editor's Note: This commentary was originally published almost four years ago, on Aug. 12, 2010. With the continuing controversy over long waits for care at VA hospitals and with President Obama's speech in Afghanistan, and his commencement address on Wed. May 28, 2014 at West Point, we thought it was worth running again.

Joseph J. Honick is an international consultant to business and government and writes for many publications, including huntingtonnews.net. Honick can be reached at joehonick@gmail.com.

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