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Soldiers committing suicide... help me understand...


BrianT

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Not being a veteran, I hope you will forgive me for posting in this forum. But I had hoped you'd allow me to ask a question.

 

I've been seeing more talk of late about soldiers committing suicide. I think the last number I heard was something like 24 a day. That sounds like a pretty alarming number to me.

 

What really caught my attention was a soldier that someone had posted a picture of on Facebook that had recently ended her life. She was young. She was pretty. She was obviously accomplished by the bars on her uniform. She gave the appearance of what should have been a long and happy life ahead. My heart really sank when I read that she committed suicide.

 

Not having been a soldier, I know I may never really comprehend what goes on in the minds of these people. It must be awful, horrible, excruciating. And I wondered whether someone here might be able to give me a sense of what's happening? What's going on in their minds that they feel like they need to end it all? What is it that they've seen and experienced that they can't deal with?

 

I ask with as much respect as I know how. I just wanted to understand a little better what's going on. It's such a sad situation and I sure wish that more could be done to help these people rather than just let them go, casualties of what I'm guessing is an internal war inside of them.

 

Interested in your thoughts.

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Why does anyone commit suicide? They have lost hope, the feel unworthy (They came home and their buddies did not), misunderstood (You have not seen or done what I have done or seen), responsible for (I let my buddies down and they died as a result)? There are a million reasons why someone might come to that point. Mental illness, physical pain, emotional pain, who's to know what might trigger the thought to end one's own life. I would guess and this only a guess that more times than not drugs and alcohol are involved to some degree.

 

Dennis

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A big difference in WW I and WW II veterans and veterans from Korea, Vietnam and now the mid-east veterans is how they felt about what they had done. It is a lot easier to live with horrible memories if you got them doing something that had to be done and the result was worth the sacrifice.

 

Some is from how their country really feels about them, not the flashy hour long parades that are not about them but the politicians trying to suck up any good feelings about the vets but how they are treated once the cameras and rich folks have moved on. Getting help for mental and medical issues has been a bad joke since well before I enlisted, you can read my long and apparently never-ending post on the Phoenix VA to get a feel for that. Many can't find jobs, wrong skills, too many medical problems, folks don't want to be around them or have them as employees or just plain old depression that leaves them unable to even try to work.

 

We aren't doing as shabbily at the country did in the Vietnam era but for the most part the welcome home today is short, shabby and about as sincere as a politician's handshake.

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Well said Stan.

 

A really big problem is when they see how what actually happened is twisted by some wannabe news organizations. Some vets come home and can't adjust to normal slow mode and casual relaxed existence without needing someone on your six to cover what you can't see. Living in condition red all the time is wearing. Some of us have survivor's guilt when we are here and some our fellow unit members are not. I am not going to go into any more detail except to say that warm gentle loving sheep, those normal souls without a capacity for controlled violence, when they find that war is a not glamour, battles are not contests, and that war is not honorable in terms we think of, just can't deal with the guilt or the shame of not pulling that trigger and a friend died. Some come home and can't deal with the fact that they were very good at, and liked, war. Just read this if you really care and want an answer to your question:

http://www.killology.com/sheep_dog.htm

 

I'm a sheepdog. There are a lot of wannabe's. Face to face they stand out to sheepdogs. We see the sheep in sheepdogs clothing instantly.

 

Take the time to read it carefully. Then tell me if you get it.

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The problem has been around far longer than just recent history. It doesn't take a lot of research to find stories of WWII heroes who died of alcoholism, or other problems as well as from suicide. Combat is hell and while most veterans of it do adjust back into society, or at least seem to in the public view, there have always been cases where that did not happen. Consider Ira Hayes, bud did you know that Audie Murphy suffered from what we now call PTSD?

 

Suffering what would today be termed posttraumatic stress disorder (PTSD), he slept with a loaded handgun under his pillow and looked for solace in addictive sleeping pills. In the last few years of his life he was plagued by money problems, but refused offers to appear in alcohol and cigarette commercials because he did not want to set a bad example.

None of this is particularly new, but mostly it is given more media play. There is a study published which indicates that even today the suicide rate for WWII combat veterans continues to be far above that for non-veterans of the same age.

 

In the popular mythology, they’re practically invincible, rarely complaining about the trauma of war.

But an investigation by The Bay Citizen and New America Media shows there’s a vast amount of pain behind that taciturn exterior: In California, World War II-era veterans are killing themselves at a rate that’s nearly four times higher than that of people the same age with no military service.

The suicide rate among these veterans is also roughly double the rate of veterans under 35, those who are returning home from Iraq and Afghanistan.

Up until the return of the Viet Nam veterans there was no accepted name for the ailment resulting from too much violent combat experience but the result was still there, even though it was mostly pushed aside and ignored. We have a son who served in combat in Iraq and just like most combat veterans, he still experiences some flash-back moments, although it is getting better. Most human beings suffer mental anguish as a result of having killed other humans. Most do pretty well in hiding it, but it is still there. Our son holds a job and most who know him call him a war hero, but his wife & I both know different. He still calls to talk when he struggles to deal with things like the fact that he survived, when some of his buddies did not. Police officers who kill a perpetrator suffer some of the same symptoms with only one such experience so we should know that those who killed as a part of the daily job are not going to leave unmarked.

 

If you do some digging on the internet, you will find that there is quite a bit more about the subject around but it does require some digging. As to the rate with active duty troops, that is a very different issue and in my 8 years in the 60's I do recall two times having heard of a sailor committing suicide, but none that I ever knew. I just sent of a note to our son just to see what he thinks on the subject. I'll share with you his thoughts when I get them.

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Thank you Stan and Derek.

 

Derek, I get it.

 

With the examples Stan mentioned, it becomes apparent that there are wolves that wear expensive suits and probably never actually carry a gun themselves. There are wolves that have the capacity to kill just with words, even polite and friendly sounding ones. It's disturbing to think about how wolves disguise themselves.

 

Again, thank you for your insights and humbly thank you for your service to our country.

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One of my earliest memories living in Robison Courts, Texarkana, Texas... early 50's special housing for veterans & families... was a WW2 veteran that went 'crazy' and shot himself and his family. Pretty vivid memory. There were other problems, but that one sticks in my mind.

 

The WW2 guys really did have some problems.

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I had an uncle that was part of the liberation of Auschwitz. He did talk about it a little sometimes but I'm pretty sure there were a lot of things that were burned into his brain that I'd bet he wished he could forget. I'm sure other soldiers, whether from Vietnam, Korea, Iraq, or Afghanistan also have some horrible images in their minds as well that they might like very much to forget but cannot.

 

As the saying goes, "war is hell", and I would imagine many get to replay the worst parts of it in their minds over and over, even after the actual fighting is done.

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A big difference in WW I and WW II veterans and veterans from Korea, Vietnam and now the mid-east veterans is how they felt about what they had done. It is a lot easier to live with horrible memories if you got them doing something that had to be done and the result was worth the sacrifice.

 

Some is from how their country really feels about them, not the flashy hour long parades that are not about them but the politicians trying to suck up any good feelings about the vets but how they are treated once the cameras and rich folks have moved on. Getting help for mental and medical issues has been a bad joke since well before I enlisted, you can read my long and apparently never-ending post on the Phoenix VA to get a feel for that. Many can't find jobs, wrong skills, too many medical problems, folks don't want to be around them or have them as employees or just plain old depression that leaves them unable to even try to work.

 

We aren't doing as shabbily at the country did in the Vietnam era but for the most part the welcome home today is short, shabby and about as sincere as a politician's handshake.

X2 or X3. I just can't agree more.

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Brian T,

 

You ask an important question and you do it rather eloquently. I hope your post receives a number of responses because it deserves intelligent debate from all sides.

 

Before I respond I should say that I have worn a uniform of this country’s military for 24 years. I served in the active duty Air Force for 11 years and in the Air National Guard for an additional 13 years. Beyond that I have worked as a defense contractor for 5 years in Afghanistan and Iraq. I am extremely proud of my time in uniform but I never knew what war really was until I became a military contractor.

 

I want to answer your question but I can’t do that without giving my opinion of history. In WWII. . . “America went to war”. . . all of America. It wasn’t just the soldiers that went. The American people were focused on war and winning it. When the soldiers returned they were met by people who actually knew there was a war going on and were more accepting of the soldiers and I think they tried to help them more. In Korea the national support of war was lost somewhat. In Viet Nam the national support was even less. In Iraq and Afghanistan . . . well frankly I don’t think the American public could have cared less.

 

We have soldiers that have served four and more combat tours and they come back to a country who’s government has tried to conceal or downplay the horrors of the war’s it conducts on the other side of the world. Most Americans have no concept of what goes on “outside the wall”. America makes up less than 5% of the worlds population and yet we live far better than the other 95%. We send people to the wall to keep the other 95% out, and we don’t want to talk about the cost of doing that.

 

So these men and women come back and are faced with a self-absorbed America that is too busy with their heads bent forward, pecking into IPads and cell phones to even see that that the person they just passed sitting in the airport looking at them with amusement and a certain distain is the reason for their ignorant bliss.

 

So Brian my answer to your question is that I think our soldiers are taking their own lives because they come home to find that no one even knows or cares that they left to protect the wall. They don’t know how to talk to people who don’t know about the other 95%.

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Sometimes a vet can not bring themselves to ever talk to someone or even admit they have an issue. Unfortunately there can be repurcussions for putting somethings into the open. Sometimes the smallest things can trigger issues. Sometimes if they open up at all and it ends up causing them more problems than they already have.

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I am a survivor of LZALBANY in the Ia Drang Valley, Vietnam. http://www.stripes.com/blogs/the-ruptured-duck/the-ruptured-duck-1.160117/lz-albany-the-forgotten-battle-1.160992 It is the bloodiest one day battle of the war. I saw and did things that I kept bottled up for 27 years because I had no one to talk with. Family & friends mean well but keep interrupting with advice when all you want to do is get it all out. 27 years after I returned it came to a head & I flipped out. And suicide was at the top of my list. My wife got me to the VA and they set me up with a counselor for PTSD vets. The counselor was also a Viet vet. One week was 'one on one', the next was group meetings with other vets. What really helped was that we all spoke the same language. By that I mean we had been & done the same things. When a guy was ready to tell his story we all sat and listened until he was done. No interruptions. i did that for 8 years. During that time I learned things that set me off and avoid them. Plus I'm on Zoloft every day. I still will not sit in a public place unless my back is to a wall. I am hyper-alert. Can't stop it. There are other things also, but the main thing is LET THEM TALK. We fulltime because when we had a stick house I would stay inside most of the time. RVing means I have to get outside even if its just to setup or tear down. If you ever meet me you would never know that I fight every day to keep going. I now wear a Vietnam veteran hat and vest. Combat vets from any war will talk to me when they can't talk to others because they know I will understand.

 

Sorry to be so long winded.

 

DICK

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Sometimes a vet can not bring themselves to ever talk to someone or even admit they have an issue. Unfortunately there can be repurcussions for putting somethings into the open. Sometimes the smallest things can trigger issues. Sometimes if they open up at all and it ends up causing them more problems than they already have.

Big Jim

I get what you're saying. I don't know what else to say, but I think I understand.

 

Jim

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...

 

Sorry to be so long winded.

 

DICK

 

Not long winded at all, Dick. Thank you for sharing. And thank you all for helping me to understand just a little better than I otherwise would. I am eternally grateful for your service and the sacrifices you've made. Thank you!

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Since there's no "like" button here, I just wanted to say how much I appreciate these honest posts.

 

My dh served 27 years and has PTSD from his time in Iraq. I won't betray his privacy by posting details, but I will say that our decision to full-time (albeit for a short while) was directly (and indirectly) related to the PTSD. Full-time RVing became a mental health issue for our family.

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Dad is still alive and kicking at 92, was a WWII, Korea and Vietnam vet that retired with 23 years in. He came ashore on Omaha, was in the Bulge and wound up n the Rhine River at the end of the war. He also spent 2 years in Korea in combat there in the Army before switching over to the Air Force for the remaining 18 years. He rarely talks of anything that happened then but will sometimes still tears up when reminiscing about the guys in his outfits (including one that didn't come home that I was named after). He has come to terms with it but when you are around a group of vets at their unit reunions or visiting with them, you start to understand.

 

I have had the honor to know Marines who won their Purple Heart on Iwo Jima, Army survivors of the Bataan Death march, people like dad that saw the horrors that were the death camps in Europe, as well as the ground pounders in Korea that had to listen to their buddies scream all night.... The guy I am named after was shot by a German sniper as dad and his section were hunkered down behind a makeshift barricade trying to wolf down a meal that was their first in two days. That barricade? A pile of dead German soldiers.....

 

Until you come to terms and begin to understand the horrors they went thru, you will not understand what drove so many of dad's friends into drinking, suicide, loneliness and mostly just being lost in their own minds about what happened to them. Some like us, were treated as vile objects by our own people. I still remember coming into San Francisco in 1969 with dad and our family being spit on by people because dad was in uniform. I wish I could meet a few of them today....

 

I still to this day shake the hand of every Vet that I see and tell them how much I appreciate their service. Anything less is a dishonor to my family.

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Dick made me aware of the book about his experience at the Ia Drang battle. They were shooting the movie and Dick got to be on set and meet the stars. One would think the movie would give an inkling of the book and it does, just a glimmer of an inkling. The book, "We Were Soldiers Once, And Young," by LT. Gen. (Ret.) Moore and Joe Galloway, is a seminal work. It is a must read for those who will never "get it." When I finished it, I felt like I'd been there, and remarked that it felt like being there. I later saw the movie, not even close. My graduate studies were in International relations which heavily focused on US strategic and tactical policy through the last century. We studied many books and battles, strategy and yes even the significance of that battle as the eye opener for a military that thought their enemy incapable of meeting us on any battleground for full engagement. Our most senior leaders were wrong.

 

Having read dozens of biographies, strategic battle analysis, histories and war campaign details I have to say that no book does what that one book does. Man or woman, it puts you into one battlefield, with one battalion, and your pass give a guaranteed return ticket. I am glad to not have been tested in battle. Doing some police work and being armed daily and having to draw several times, but thank goodness never having to shoot, is not the same thing. We all know we wrote a blank check. Dick got his cashed and is still covering the cost. If not for Hal Moore, who still leads his men and is their rock of support, and some really caring mental health providers and volunteers, we'd lose more to the after battles of war.

 

Read the book. It answers all of the questions for those seeking answers to this question IMO.

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I am a survivor of LZALBANY in the Ia Drang Valley, Vietnam. http://www.stripes.com/blogs/the-ruptured-duck/the-ruptured-duck-1.160117/lz-albany-the-forgotten-battle-1.160992 It is the bloodiest one day battle of the war. I saw and did things that I kept bottled up for 27 years because I had no one to talk with. Family & friends mean well but keep interrupting with advice when all you want to do is get it all out. 27 years after I returned it came to a head & I flipped out. And suicide was at the top of my list. My wife got me to the VA and they set me up with a counselor for PTSD vets. The counselor was also a Viet vet. One week was 'one on one', the next was group meetings with other vets. What really helped was that we all spoke the same language. By that I mean we had been & done the same things. When a guy was ready to tell his story we all sat and listened until he was done. No interruptions. i did that for 8 years. During that time I learned things that set me off and avoid them. Plus I'm on Zoloft every day. I still will not sit in a public place unless my back is to a wall. I am hyper-alert. Can't stop it. There are other things also, but the main thing is LET THEM TALK. We fulltime because when we had a stick house I would stay inside most of the time. RVing means I have to get outside even if its just to setup or tear down. If you ever meet me you would never know that I fight every day to keep going. I now wear a Vietnam veteran hat and vest. Combat vets from any war will talk to me when they can't talk to others because they know I will understand.

 

Sorry to be so long winded.

 

DICK

Dick,

Well put, same path.. Got real close to loosing everything more than once. I got an ultimatum and once I went it all came out. Several years later I was asked to change to a group of gulf war vets so I could help as a mentor.

 

You are so right, try to talk and get cut off with advice. Sit down with a vet and they get it.

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I asked our son, recently retired from 24 years in the Army, about the issue of suicides in the active duty ranks. He was a medic with isolated duty training so was pretty much aware of the Army concerns and positions on the subject as well as the efforts to solve it. I recently got a reply about the issue and while much of it was rather personal, I'll share his general thoughts on the issue.

 

Increased suicide rates are something the military is very aware of. Between 2005 - 2012 (the year it peaked) the suicide rate doubled to more than twice the rate of a similar age group in the general American society. Based upon what I've read there was very little evidence to directly tie it to deployments or combat. The rate was not higher among combat vets than non. And PTSD, while it was a risk factor, was not as big of a influencer as most people would think.

Because of that, there was a significant increase in suicide awareness and prevention training, it is now a quarterly requirement. I guess it was minimally successful, since the rate has decreased in in the last two years.

 

Personally, I've always felt a significant reason is it has become more socially acceptable, & party because of he decrease in religious influence.

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