A recently released study found that deployments in war zones had few direct links to the rising number of military suicides. But it also reveals the complexity of the problem — and the often-counterintuitive nature of predicting suicidal behavior.
The study was published online by the Journal of the American Medical Association and supports the long-held contention of many military medical experts. Rather than deployments, the study concluded that other issues such as relationship and financial problems, substance abuse and mental illness likely were the forces that contributed to the spike.
In 2012, suicides among active-duty troops hit a record 350, twice as many as a decade before and more than the number of U.S. troops killed in Iraq or Afghanistan.
The Star Tribune looked at the high rate of military suicides, including specific problems facing the National Guard, in a series called “Lost Warriors.” It was hard to detect a pattern in the Minnesota cases we looked at. One soldier recently returned to Iraq while struggling with a troubled marriage. Another was a high-ranking officer facing disciplinary action. A third was on his second deployment, home on leave and struggling with a number of demons.
I spent part of last week reading a new book that should be required reading for anyone concerned about the all-volunteer military who did the fighting in Iraq and Afghanistan. Written by the Washington Post’s David Finkel, “Thank You For Your Service” will be released this fall and takes a profoundly intimate look at the post-combat lives of several soldiers and their families from a Fort Riley-based Army unit that Finkel first wrote about in “The Good Soldiers,” a grunt-level look at a deployment to Iraq during what became known as “the Surge.”
Both the nuance of the recent suicide study and Finkel’s pivotal work show that the mental and physical effects on the troops we sent to war will be felt for decades, as they and their families continue to come to grips with their experiences.
Mark Brunswick • 612-673-4434
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