In a previous column, I asked troops, veterans, retirees and loved ones to chime in about what can be done to fix the suicide problem our military is facing. I received a number of thoughtful answers. A sampling:
• When our troops are deployed, they are special because they have a mission. They are told in many ways they are indispensible. Then we bring them home and they are put on details doing meaningless things like painting rocks. It’s demoralizing.
They are also told that if they seek mental health counseling, it will end their careers and they could lose their security clearances.
We need to give our troops a mission when they are home and not put them on stupid details to fill their day. And we need to ensure that they are given a sense of security and privacy so they feel able to talk to someone.
• The suicide issue goes hand-in-hand with the leadership problems. Too many leaders know their soldiers have issues that could lead to suicide as an outcome, and they are either too inexperienced or too poorly trained in many respects to react and get help for their people.
• The answer is simple: There is simply not enough support for troops suffering with depression. Most campaigns are focused exclusively on those suffering from combat-related post-traumatic stress disorder.
However, statistically, less than half of those who kill themselves have even deployed to combat. An even smaller percentage has actually engaged in combat operations or been exposed to combat. Yet the military throws the vast majority of its resources at combat-related PTSD.
• One of the major problems related to suicide is that the military doesn’t know how to manage those considered high-risk. If a service member is hospitalized for suicidal thoughts or an attempt, there is a good chance he will fall through the cracks once he is discharged from the hospital, which is often a civilian hospital.
With the backlog for mental health appointments, the time between discharge and follow-up care is too long. This is where we are losing too many of our warriors.