The Eastern New Mexico News - Serving Clovis, Portales and the Surrounding Communities

Editorial: Military must take mental health seriously


A disturbing spike in active-duty military suicides, which puts 2012 on pace to set an all-time record, demands a swift and coordinated response from the Pentagon.

So far this year, even as the war in Iraq has wound down, the number of U.S. service members taking their own lives has averaged almost one a day — a substantially higher pace than in 2010 and 2011.

In 2012, far more soldiers have taken their own lives than have been killed by the enemy in Afghanistan.

Seen up close, each life lost is its own wrenching tragedy — and many are caused by a mysterious mix of forces, including unique and intimate personal crises.

Step back and patterns come into focus.

The armed forces have been stretched thin by a decade of war; many of those serving have seen multiple combat tours.

As Gen. Peter Chiarelli, who led a 2011 study as the Army's second-highest-ranking officer, put it: "There are second- and third-order effects that have grown out of this that our nation has never experienced before."

Unlike more traditional wounds that send people home from the battlefield, posttraumatic stress and traumatic brain injuries are common and often go unreported.

An Army probe last year documented serious strains on troop morale, finding that 70 percent to 80 percent of troops surveyed had seen a buddy killed. War — even high-tech modern war — remains hell.

Overlaying it all is a stubborn culture of swaggering toughness that, while vital to the healthy functioning of a fighting force, leaves too many troubled souls too proud to seek help when the darkness comes.

In recent years, in response to suicide rates that have risen steadily since 2004, the military — led by the Army, where most lives are lost — has studied the problem exhaustively, producing reams of reports and action plans.

The reforms are welcome: The services have placed more mental health specialists in war zones, set up confidential hotlines and improved training up and down the ranks.

It is now clear that those measures have failed to turn the tide. Active-duty military suicides are double what they were just a decade ago.

When young people in uniform wrestle with the deepest kinds of pain, they must know that they are not alone.

The military must take a harder look to ensure it is providing every last soldier with support — and the soldiers, in return, must have the strength and courage to accept assistance.


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