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October 11, 2010

Burying the Lede

The majority of soldiers who have committed suicide — about 80 percent — have had only one deployment or none at all.

Posted by Cassandra at October 11, 2010 05:06 PM

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It's hard to know what "the lede" "should be" in this story. Maybe here there is no lede at all, in the "burying the lede" sense. Me, I thought the article was fairly well-written; indeed, rather skillfully written.

In any event, one hopes that the Army will in the near future come to have more success than it has had recently, in stemming these increasingly frequent tragedies. Godspeed to all involved, or touched.

Posted by: pond at October 11, 2010 07:19 PM

Posted by: Cassandra at October 11, 2010 07:28 PM

AFAIK, the suicide rate in the military is LESS THAN that of the similar age-group population at large.

Posted by: Rex at October 11, 2010 07:31 PM

The suicide rate for Marines is currently higher than that of the Army, too. Not that this is anything to be happy about, mind you. But I just read the report referenced in the NY Times article and though they attempted to control for variances in the demographic composition of the services, they weren't really able to do so.

There was no uniform suicide data collection standard for the services. That makes meaningful comparisons problematic.

I wonder whether it ever occurs to the press that relentlessly hyping the suicide rate (especially at specific installations) may have the same effect that relentlessly hyping insurgent attacks had earlier in the war?

Yeah, I know. Dumb question.

Posted by: Cassandra at October 11, 2010 08:10 PM

They do a lot to hype suicide awareness in the military in the past several years, but it didn't do anything to lower the rate. The programs they roll out aren't a substitution for leadership. Unfortunately, they're sometimes seen like that. Guy suicidal? Separate him from his peers and send him to an overwhelmed psych because they are professionals, and we just need to check the box.

Posted by: Smart Grunt at October 11, 2010 09:05 PM


I will say, though, having been on the other side of the suicide issue that it's not as easy as it looks.

We had a high profile suicide in our command back in 2004. No one (and I mean NO ONE, even his SO) realized what he was about to do b/c he hid what he was going through. There were no failed attempts, no warnings, no nothing. The only indication that anything was even wrong happened a few hours before he killed himself, and it wasn't anything that would cause a rational person to think, "OMG, this guy's going to kill himself".

I have never seen so many people beat themselves up wondering how they could have prevented it. I have to say from the distance of 6 years, that I'm not sure there was anything any of us could have done. You can't just commit every person who seems troubled.

After that, we had an outbreak of suicides and suicide attempts in a command where there had been none before. And you can't follow everyone home or confine them to base.

Some units have begun not letting everyone go right away when they get back in what I think is a misguided attempt to prevent suicides. So now you're punishing every person in the unit in the hope that if there's a problem, it will manifest itself within a convenient 72 hour period?

I don't know what the answer is. I wish to God I did. But I suspect that it's something along the lines of, "There are things we could do better, but (as is so often the case in life) there are no guarantees."

Posted by: Cassandra at October 11, 2010 09:20 PM

No one knows the answer - that's the problem. Having just redeployed I've gone through the current Army suicide awareness program within the last month, and there's something missing - I'm not sure what. It's almost like there's so much counseling on PTSD, depression, suicide, etc. that the people trying to help are almost planting the suggestion that this is normal and expected behavior.

Posted by: Pogue at October 11, 2010 10:23 PM

Too much warning about the problem can bring about suspicions of the problem which bring about questions and possible allegations of the problem which bring about the problem that wasn't there to begin with.

For the problem, substitute your choice of suicide, abuse, adultery, ... any sin you care to name. Too many false positives create real positives.


Posted by: htom at October 11, 2010 11:15 PM

When redeploying in 2007, I learned that when they ask you whether you are contemplating harming yourself or someone else, answering "Not in that order" gets you an extra visit with the counselor.

That said, the counselor was the same one who gave us our combat stress briefing. "When you were in Iraq, you may have seen blah blah blah." Someone politely pointed out (for the 200th time) that we were in Afghanistan, not Iraq. She responded without missing a beat: "Well, if you HAD been in Iraq, you might have seen blah blah blah." Yes, Iraq was a much bigger deal in 2006, but Afghanistan was not exactly a theme park.

Anyway, when I saw who it was, I knew any chance of an intelligent discussion of my issues was right out the window. They gave me some more Army Onesource magnets and set me free.

Posted by: Sig at October 12, 2010 12:08 AM

I wonder whether it ever occurs to the press that relentlessly hyping the suicide rate (especially at specific installations) may have the same effect that relentlessly hyping insurgent attacks had earlier in the war?

Us drugged-out, baby-burning, psycho Viet Vets were the poster children for PTSD-induced suicide in the MSM for thirty years.

Just one problem: our suicide rate was -- and continues to be -- lower than that of our non-vet peers.

I'm familiar with the Giger case mentioned in the NYT article, and the commander's determination of "death by suicide" was made despite some evidence pointing to the possibility of murder.

Posted by: BillT at October 12, 2010 04:58 AM

I have been informed that I jumped the gun on the Giger comment. Something is pending.

Posted by: BillT at October 12, 2010 06:32 AM

"For fear of losing benefits"

I kept seeing that in the article, and I can't help but wonder exactly what benefits would be subject to loss for a soldier seeking help? I mean, if this is truly a possible consequence for someone trying to get better, (although I cannot for the life of me figure out what bennies one could possibly lose just for seeking help) then that needs to be changed immediately because it's obviously a deterrent to those who most need the help. If it's not true, then these kids need to be made accutely aware that their benefits will not be taken away.

Posted by: DL Sly at October 12, 2010 07:59 AM

It's scuttlebutt Sly. Da Grunt kept hearing the same thing. They were talking about their GI bennies and there's no way they can lose that with an honorable discharge. Since it takes 100s of years, millions of man hours and countless lives to even pass through the disability benefit "program" that couldn't possibly be the bennies they fear losing. It could be the real life problem of speaking to a psychologist vs a psychiatrist too. That is a real and very valid fear toward future employment but it still would have nothing to do with their GI bennies.

Posted by: JHD at October 14, 2010 11:43 AM