Suicides in the Armed Forces and the National Guard and Reserves are still alarmingly on the rise. With all the due diligence and immense outreach that is ongoing in all 50 States, we cannot seem to abate the savage spirit that invades and intrudes the soul of our young veterans of war.
Sixty-five members of the Guard and Reserve have taken their lives in the first six months of 2010. This figure does not include veterans or the Navy and Marines. Even more alarming.
We have an epidemic of mental health issues in the military that all best efforts are not touching. Or, they are, and the numbers could be larger were it not for the ubiquitous prevention programs both in and out of the Armed Forces. Everyone in the veteran advocacy business is on the look out for the signs of depression and deep despair.
I am trained in crisis and suicide prevention work and remain constantly vigilant through my contacts and network of associates. We man 24 hour hot-lines and spend endless hours on the phone assuring our comrades, who have weathered the horrors of war, that there is light on the other side of those nightmares. Yet so much is related to place and timing. So few ever seem to be around when that dreaded moment and savage god enters the picture.
Just this week a Wisconsin National Guard Soldier, Matthew Magdzas, a 23 year old married man took the life of his pregnant wife and his dogs and then ended his own mortal life. Impulse or plan? Flashbacks or internal rage? Who in God’s name knows. It is when the antecedent conditions are not apparent that we remain impotent in the realm of prevention. And of course the victim and victims are generally unaware moments before the act. How is that to be prevented?
I have the experience of 7 suicides in my life. Four of them Vietnam Veterans. One of them was my roommate Joe Herman, who had the world on his side, talent, looks, money. And the demons of war intruded one night and put a bullet in his head. Could I have prevented it? I say yes. But again, we are never there, right there, when needed. How can you be there before those one car accidents when the vet elects to just run off the road, as was the case in the years from 1975-90.
58,000 died in Vietnam. It has been reported by Pointman Ministries and other Veteran Outreach programs, that another 110,000 committed suicide during those years; twice the fatalities in the war.
32 soldiers including 11 in the Guard and Reserves took their own lives in the month of June. That is a rate of one a day and at level only matched by the period after the Vietnam War. How do we address this as a citizenry not a military? And mind you, those are figures for active duty, not veterans who have been discharged.
Are we, are we, our brothers keeper? Are we able to even address in polite company such a taboo subject? Are the figures simply so daunting that we are just left in a numbness of mind that has no direction of home. When it was reported back in 2008 that a full 50% of the suicides amongst veterans were in the ranks of the Reserve and the Guard, did they slow down the deployment of these young men and women until we got a grip on the nuances of the Guard traninng? No, we needed numbers, big numbers for the General’s, “Surges”, all of them. And now they are surging home, and the ghosts of war are at our doorstep. In the last two articles I asked our readers if we are ready for a reception that may not be as rosy as we wish.
Is it possible to have every neighborhood trained and armed with a compassionate platoon of listeners and go-to people for times of distress? We cannot just live behind the bumper stickers of support. we have to have some feet…or cliche as it sounds, some boots on the ground. We need a “surge” of families and friends who will be at the vets side in a heartbeat. The now running national TV advertisement with all the Medal of Honor recipients, beseeching the young soldiers to get help, as many of them acknowledge they wish they had done, is a laudable move in the right direction.
The trail into the woods of suicide is dark and booby trapped. No single hypothesis has ever touched the ambiguous and complex motives that lead to suicide. Literature is strewn with attempts to grapple with the under-belly of this human particular. From Judas Iscariot, to the writings of, T.S. Elliot’s Wasteland, the Myth of Sisphus, Sartre’s “No Exit,” Soren Kierkegaard’s concept of despair that surpasses all clinical definitions of depression, to the endless tomes of poetry from the Greek tragedies to the modern Sylvia Plath, no one has captured the monster in a cage for lengthy study. It is time to come out of the closet and dance with the demons of war. so as to escort them off the floor.
“The passion for destruction is also a creative passion.” Michael Bakunin
The massive amount of material from sociologists and clinical psychiatrists only adds to a pile of documentation for professional journals and epidemiologists and not one iota of helpfulness for the layman. And most all of the research is ipso post facto. Prevention is vacant.
It may well be that no one wants to enter the shabby, chaotic, tortured and agonizing world of suicide. With all of our revered Research Foundations and think tanks- the Heritages the Cato’s the Enterprise Institutes the Rand’s, et al, is there not a one of them that could side-step long enough to research what is killing the souls of our young warriors?
Is this the arena for the Jeff Bazos and Bill Gates clan to direct their foundation monies?
Is the business of life and death to subconsciously abhorrent for study?
Life and death is the reason for war. One side must win. Suicide apparently elects to not take sides.
Only the dead know the end of war.