Some Thoughts on Suicide
Editor’s Note: Memorial Day Weekend can be tough for many of us as we pay tribute and memorialize those who we have lost. Over at Blackfive, Laughing Wolf has a very appropriate piece on suicide. We will be covering this topic heavily in a few weeks but in the interim I wanted to share it with you. Please click through at the end of the piece and show the Paratrooper of Love some RU Respect! -RU Rob
By Laughing Wolf
Yesterday, Doc Bailey and I talked about military suicides and his frustrations with trying to talk to/work with various congresscritters. Sadly, I wasn’t surprised at the lack-of-responses and other blow-offs he was getting, as I have yet to meet any politician who I think is stand-up and has their head screwed on straight on this issue. Not. A. One. I’m not terribly impressed with leadership right now either. From caring for the wounded to suicides, I am starting to ask what happened to “Leave No One Behind?”
A few years ago, when Uncle Jimbo and I did the journalism fellowships at the Knight Center, one of the people who came to talk with us was a retired general who had lost a family member to suicide. There was some semi-frank talk about that and about how the military was, and wasn’t moving to handle things. While the general recognized a fundamental problem with that response, he also said it wouldn’t change.
Before I get into the fundamental problem, I want to detour to a solution, and a plea.
First, the solution will have to come from within the ranks, most likely the NCOs of those in combat arms be they active or retired. It will have to come from those that were there.
Second, if things are rough, please reach out. Talk to someone else who has been there, whether it’s your unit or not. We have lost enough people to the enemy without, we do not need to lose yet more to the enemy within.
Now, to the heart of the problem: The troops trust DoD and the Army. They trust them to be PC and to put them dead last.
When the general talked with us, part of that discussion revolved around the fact that whether it was PTS or suicide, that the Army response was to isolate and identify. Anyone coming forward at that time for either could count on the following things happening:
1. They would be relieved of all combat and most general duties and training. They could count on being transferred to non-combat duties and units. For troops with hearts and souls of warriors, there is no worse fate. Further, it means that they were leaving their buddies behind and in the lurch.
2. They could count on steps being taken to keep them away from weapons on and off duty, to be put under watch and otherwise wrapped up so that they could do nothing. Nothing bad, nothing good, and frankly nothing to help themselves.
3. Because they were under watch, what should be a private medical condition was public knowledge for all. The shame and humiliation that comes with being labelled far and wide as “the nut” is huge, particularly for someone who is simply trying to deal with things (particularly constructively).
4. They could count on finding their career pretty well ended. At least that was the perception, but as one looks at the number of public suicides by our veterans, and the sad tales of units where leadership turned their backs and left them behind, I can’t say it’s a false perception.
5. They can also count on this following them into the civilian world, not only in terms of finding a job, but in legal entanglements ranging from not being able to get a carry permit to potential loss of visitation/custody in divorce settlements.
The general admitted that such was not likely to change, because the Army is PC. He pointed out that if they didn’t do these things, and someone did kill themselves, it would be a PR nightmare for the Army. He brought up media coverage, congressional investigations, and other delights.
Tied to, but somewhat separate from this fundamental problem, is that many of the troops consider the counseling and related services a joke. First, they know it is PC, and PC rules over FM, as in Fix Me/Help Me Help Myself. If you want to know why they feel that way, you can not only look at reports on the subject, but look at what came out about the terrorist in their ranks, a man ignored and allowed to do great damage because no one had the courage or moral integrity to do anything about Hassan. If they can’t and won’t police their own, and put duty before correctness, the troops have zero reason to believe anything different will happen with their treatment.
Second to that is a huge issue for anyone who has been there: the vast majority of those doing the counseling have zero, zip, nada experience at the front. They have not been there, seen this, or done that. As I remarked to Doc Bailey, I suspect that the closest many of them have been to combat is going to the mall for the day after Thanksgiving sale. There have been a few I know who have been there, and we sadly lost one of them to suicide.
So, combat veterans are expected to go get help from someone who has not the first freaking clue about what the patient has experienced and/or might be feeling, who the troops suspect is not only PC but of a strain of PC that is of a “progressive” bent, and who they know will put political correctness first given past events.
Add to that a staggering layer of bureaucracy, particularly in the VA system, where files seem to routinely be lost, ignored, and paperwork is placed well ahead of care. Again, it’s a perception, but I can’t say it is a false one.