I've been reading overlooked and buried news that bears inconvenient truth for most Americans.
Bluntly, sadly, alarmingly: suicide rates for both veterans and active service members of the Afghanistan and Iraq Wars are at record highs.
It is epidemic.
Soon, America will have lost more troops to suicide than in battles in Afghanistan and Iraq. This is the highest and most hidden of cost of these 21st-century wars begun under the George W. Bush administration.
Here are a few snippets from the news, all easily accessed via an Internet search of reputable mainstream news sources:
- Each day, 18 veterans commit suicide.
- An active US military service member commits suicide every 36 hours.
- Over 3,400 service members have committed suicide since the wars in Afghanistan and Iraq began (2010 number)
- 6,365 American service members have died of casualties of the wars in Afghanistan and Iraq.
- The suicide rate of US military personnel has increased every year since 2002.
- 2011 recorded the highest number of suicides for service members yet.
- Military suicide rates are now referred to as "epidemic."
- Veterans now represent 20% of the 30,000 suicides committed each year in America.
- Since it started in 2007, the VA suicide hotline has received over 400,000 calls from veterans who were in the act of suicide.
This is the ugly underbelly of war in general and of the military policies practiced in the Afghanistan and Iraq Wars in particular.
Congress has acted, finally, to insist that US military branches and the Veterans Administration step up suicide prevention and intervention efforts. And there are some promising initial results to report on the impact of these efforts.
But the financial and personnel resources directed at suicide prevention and intervention is a pittance compared to what is needed. In fact, US military and veterans groups will continue to be overwhelmed with the numbers and challenge of service member and veteran suicides.
Of all the calculations of the cost of these wars, apparently very little attention was given to war-related suicides or the investment in preventing them and intervening in them. Even with an epidemic staring us in the face, our national leaders simply do not yet take it seriously enough to invest in ways that could prevent the loss of thousands of veterans' lives.
What can ordinary citizens do?
I am convinced that local citizens, congregations and communities need to be part of the mix of a helpful response for the hope of healing. Over the next few weeks, I will make several posts on this issue on Indy Bikehiker to demonstrate both the need and the creative and valuable responses citizens, congregations and community-based groups are making and can mobilize to make.
Even when these wars end, the war will not be over for the troops who have served and the families who love them. These men and women are and will be living in our communities as our neighbors. It is here, where we live, that we can help make a difference, redeeming lives ravaged by war's insanities.