Fighting In George Bush's Wars May Cause Suicide

by James Glaser
July 16, 2007

George Bush started sending American troops off to war in October, 2001, with his attack on Afghanistan, code named "Operation Infinite Justice." Wikipedia reports:

Operation Enduring Freedom (OEF) is the official name used by the U.S. government for its military response to the September 11, 2001 attacks on the United States. It was originally called "Operation Infinite Justice," but this phrase had previously been restricted to the description of God (among followers of several faiths), and it is believed to have been changed to avoid offense to Muslims.[1] Islamic clerics objected on the grounds that infinite justice can only be dispensed by God.

We don't know when the first veteran from that war committed suicide, but after over 5 ½ years of combat in Afghanistan and Iraq the suicide rate has gotten so high that the Department of Veterans Affairs has decided that a National Suicide Crisis Hot Line must be implemented. In a news release dated July 2, 2007, the VA states, "To ensure veterans with mental health crises have immediate access to trained coordinators, the Department of Veteran Affairs (VA) will establish a 24-hour, National suicide prevention hot line."

Even though the suicide rate of veterans is so high that a hot-line must be created, like so many projects that are supposed to help the veterans, this "hot-line" will not be up and running until at least August 31, 2007. There is no telling how long it will take to get the proposed phone number out to the veteran population in need, nor how many veterans will die in the mean time.

Returning veterans with thoughts of suicide are most likely not getting on a computer looking for help or even going to the VA or a Community Vet Center. They are probably using drugs or alcohol to cope with their problem. To reach these vets will take a real national program, where the VFW, American Legion, Fraternal Order of the Purple Heart, and all the other veteran organizations start getting the word out, along with church groups and community organizations that can let the loved ones of veterans in trouble know there is a place to get help in a crisis.

Any way you look at it though, it will take months and months to get that Hot-line number out to the veteran population in need. Many will be missed, and sad to say, will end up taking their lives before they know there are people ready to help. Five years after the fact is way too late to be starting something like this.

If you Google "Iraq War Veterans Suicide," you will find 1,850,000 pages of information on the subject. On the first page you will find an article by the Boston Globe, written by Charles M. Sennott, from February of this year titled "Told to wait, Marine dies."

The story is about Marine veteran Jonathan Schulze, an Iraq war veteran with two Purple Hearts, who went to the VA Hospital in Saint Cloud, Minnesota looking for help with his "uncontrollable desire to kill himself." He was told by the VA to "Go home and wait for a phone call tomorrow." When the VA called, they told him he would be number 26 on a waiting list to get into the 12 bed PTSD unit. Four days later Jonathan Schulze "wrapped a household extension cord around his neck, tied it to a beam in the basement, and hanged himself."

There have been credible reports that the VA is facing an increase of tens of thousands of veterans needing help with their combat related Post Traumatic Stress. To help with these numbers, last month the VA announced "an initiative to hire 100 new employees to provide readjustment counseling at each of the Department's 207 community-based Vet Centers." The way that is written a person could believe that there will be a hundred new employees for each Vet Center. They could probably use that many, but a call to the Tallahassee Vet Center clarified that line to mean 100 new employees total nation wide. That is less than one employee for each Center.

Just like the unknown number of Afghan and Iraqi vets who have committed suicide, nobody knows for sure how many Vietnam veterans committed suicide since that war ended. If you go to the web page Suicide Wall, you will see that the number of Vietnam vet suicides is anywhere from 20,000 to 200,000. We find that Washington doesn't like to tally those numbers, as then the total forces lost in any war could rise dramatically.

We haven't kept a count of veteran suicides from WWII, the Korean War, or Vietnam, so it is no wonder that we have no count from George Bush's wars. Just as we keep no numbers for veteran suicides, we keep no numbers of civilians killed in any of our wars. There are only estimates, and estimates can always be debated. The only finite number is the number of coffins that make it back to our shores, and even now laws have been passed to keep the news media from photographing them so that numbers can be verified and reality can be checked.

So think about this once more, over five years after George Bush launched his war on terrorism, the number of veteran suicides has become so large that a national suicide hot-line has been established. We don't know how many suicides there have been, but we know the number is high because there never was a hot-line established post Vietnam.

America has a problem with its returning veterans not being able to cope with their time in combat. Too many are in such a state of depression that they feel suicide is their only way out. Better late than never, the Department of Veterans Affairs is finally making an effort to do something for these returning veterans. There is no doubt that the VA is understaffed and under funded in their mental health units, and we can only hope and pray that this will be corrected before we lose thousands more of those who gave so much for their country.

Free JavaScripts provided
by The JavaScript Source

BACK to the 2007 Politics Columns.