Wednesday, August 17, 2011

DoD is not serious about nor addressing military suicides

Sig Christenson is a solid reporter any outlet would be lucky to have (currently, the Houston Chronicle is lucky) but I can't read the latest report without wanting to scream. And maybe Christenson would be screaming in print if it were a column and not a report. The topic is military suicides. We'll note this, "Despite programs the Army has instituted to build 'resiliency' in troops and families, the number of Army Reserve and Army National Guard soldiers dying by their own hands has gone up since 2008. Active-duty deaths rose in 2008 and 2009, but dipped last year."

As noted in yesterday's snapshot:

Someone needs to remind Leon Panetta that the rate of military suicide, the rate of military sexual assault and so much more that Robert Gates was always 'working on' never improved under Gates and if he's got time to plead for State Dept money, he damn well better have solved the many problems of the Defense Dept. If not, he needs to sit his ass down and get to work doing the damn job he said he wanted. If Congress had any real desire for progress on those issues, they'd start setting deadlines for these jabbering figureheads, such as, "We want to see a 10% reduction in military suicides in six months, a 25% reduction in a year. We expect you to meet that reduction or to tender your resignation, Mr. Panetta."

I'm not in the mood to pretend. I'm too worn out to be shocked by the numbers. If the Congress is serious about military suicides, they need to start demanding real results. There's no excuse for that suicide rate.

You will never eliminate suicide -- in either the military or general population -- that's a given. But you can work to reduce the rate of suicide and that's especially true in the military.

The brass is going to have to start addressing the topic and, yes, admitting that a few of them hit a rough patch at one time where suicide at least momentarily floated through their heads. They're going to have to get over themselves and start addressing the range of human emotions before the epidemic gets even higher. They have created a false norm and the enlisted are struggling with very real and very serious issues and that struggle is not conveyed by the false norm which creates additional stress on the enlisted already struggling.

Suicide didn't just emerge in the last few years. There is a large body of work on the issue.

If the Congress were serious about addressing the military suicides (as well as the veterans suicides which first need to be tabulated -- something Senator Patty Murray is working on), then it is time to impose accountability. If your job was to put a label on every can of Del Monte corn that came down the assembly line, you would be judged to have done your job or not. But somehow Robert Gates got hailed as 'wonderful' while the military suicide rate grew and grew under his 'leadership.' (The same is true of military sexual assault.) Problems increased under Gates and he got praised.

Leon Panetta is wasting time advocating for the State Dept. If the Secretary of Defense has that much free time, he must have solved all the problems in his own department, right?

Congress needs to be demanding results. It's past time for this mealy mouthed crap about, "This rate is unacceptable." I've heard that in how many hearings for how many years now?

Pretend for a moment that this isn't the military we're talking about. Let's pretend it's a boarding school and each year the suicide rate increases. You think they wouldn't go out of business? You think it wouldn't be a scandal with people (especially parents) screaming for accountability?

But everyone is just supposed to nod as the Secretary of Defense (whoever it is) sits before Congress and 'laments' the 'tragedy' and swears that it's being addressed.

The Congress needs to demand results. Leon Panetta needs to name one person whose sole task is to reduce military suicides. That person needs to regularly report to Congress and regularly post at the DoD website on the progress or lack of it in reducing the rate of suicide.

It's not difficult today. It's a cultural issue and the brass doesn't want to change the military culture.

Again, the rate will never be zero. Suicides have existed since the beginning of time. But the alarming rate within the military can be reduced and should have been reduced. Had it been seriously addressed, we would have already seen a significant drop in the rate of suicide.

(Veterans suicides are important as well. However, the above does not apply to them for one reason: diffusion. Active duty is concentrated in an environment where controls can be imposed and problems quickly addressed. Veterans are out of the service and addressing that rate -- an unknown rate at present -- will be more difficult as a result. More difficult, not impossible.)

The Register-Guard editorial board notes
the crisis today, "Despite an unprecedented offensive on suicide, the U.S. military continues to take record losses from troubled soldiers dying by their own hands." I applaud the editorial board for addressing the very important issue and I know it's not the first time they have. That said, their lead sentence is false. There has not been "an unprecedented offensive."

If you doubt it, look at the "It Gets Better" campaign. Where's the military equivalent? There is none. All this time later, there is none when isolation, a feeling of being alone are among the most common characteristics of suicide. Where's the poster featuring Adm Mike Mullen, for example, explaining the military tests your body in ways you never expected but it also tests your heart and soul and just as you might need help with your body while serving, you might need help with your mind? Where is any real effort to treat suicidal thoughts (long-term or fleeting) as part of the range of human emotion and not something so strange and perverse and toxic that it requires the creation of a new TB ward?

The editorial board notes, "Last week, the U.S. Army announced that it suffered a record 32 suspected suicides in July -- the most since the military began releasing monthly data two years ago. During the month, 22 active-duty troops and 10 reservists committed suicide. That’s more than one suicide a day and a total that exceeds the previous record of 31 set in June 2010." Not only do we need to demand accountability, we need to be aware when the Secretary of Defense is defocusing from his duties and we need to call it out. It is not his job, it is not his task, it is not his role to campaign for the State Dept budget and when he does that, he suggests that his desk is clean and he's accomplished all of his duties. That is not the case.

The press refused to hold Gates accountable and now they want to do the same with Leon. That's disgusting. Secretary of Defense is a well paid position with a lot of limelight. Those occupying the position should be qualified. Failure to address an ongoing crisis would argue they're either not qualified or not doing their jobs. Find the article during the Never Ending Farewell Tour Robert Gates did that calls him out for the failures under his leadership. You won't. And I'm still sickened to my stomach by the fawning over Gates by various Reps and Senators in his 'farewell' appearances before Committees.

Did the increase in suicides under Gates' watch matter? You wouldn't have known it to watch Congress kiss his ass over and over. In fact, Senator Patrick Leahy was the only one who challenged Gates on anything and, when he did, we saw the real Gates, the nasty little bitch who throws a tantrum if his ego is not stroked, who steams for a good thirty minutes after. Who rolls his eyes -- in front of the entire Congress -- and acts like a surly teenager. We covered it in real time. Gates was damn lucky Adm Mike Mullen was there to smooth it over and that Mullen cared to smooth it over.

Jeremy Schwartz (Austin American-Statesman) reports, "The relentless pace has been blamed for high rates of post traumatic stress disorder, depression and other psychological and emotional ills. Now, some relief seems to be on the horizon for American troops. Earlier this month, the Army announced that most deployments will be reduced from one year to 9 months." Now? Really? Are we all supposed to play stupid this morning? And are we supposed to clap and scream "9 months" while ignoring the issue of dwell time? Schwartz admits that the Army's not commenting on dwell time -- dwell time is, in fact, the issue, as one study after another has repeatedly found. Buy a damn clue already.

Do you know how long the DoD has claimed they were addressing this issue?

Patrick Murphy's no longer in Congress. I can remember being present at a hearing where then US House Rep Murphy specifically raised this issue. And got a nonsense response at which point he asked if Congress needed to legislate dwell time in order to get the Defense Dept to do what it was supposed to? That was February 28, 2008. I can remember US House Rep Shelley Berkley addressing the issue in an April 1, 2008 hearing. I can go on and on. The point is that nothing happened. Even now nothing's happened and you know that by the fact that the military didn't trumpet dwell time. If they had something to trumpet it would have been in Schwartz' article and he wouldn't have had to point out that they were saying nothing about dwell time.

Was Bob Gates a great Secretary of Defense because he showed up for the job? Is that the criteria for judging success now? He accomplished nothing. Now I was present for the off-the-record petting zoo appearance where Gates was displayed for the press -- they took photos with him and gushed -- and time and again it was about how Gates always answered their questions and his office returned their calls and he knew their names and blah, blah, blah. I didn't hear a damn thing about his actual job. He wasn't, please note, the US military's press officer. He was the Secretary of Defense. And not one reporter seemed to grasp that -- maybe they were too busy clutching his arm and giving him bear hugs -- there's a reason that little dry hump was off-the-record.

All community sites updated last night -- only some of the updates show up to the right. We'll note the ones that do plus and Adam vs. The Man:

If we swipe Ann's blogroll, we get:

Note that Cedric shows up on her listing. Everyone listed except The World Today Just Nuts (third entry this morning, shh, surprise) and Third updated last night. We'll close with this from Lizzie Phelan's "Libyan Forces Liberate Misratah" (IHC):

While the journalists suffering from cabin fever in Tripoli’s Rixos hotel, publish their dreams that imperialism’s lackies (the rebels/rats) have taken Zawiya, Ghuriyan and Sorman, they are ignoring a decisive moment in the crisis.

That is the liberation of the hitherto rebel-held area of Misratah. Last night the Libyan army moved into the centre of the city and now the rebels are trapped between Misratah and Tawergha. 75 per cent of the city has been secured including the port, which was a lifeline for the rebels to receive shipments of arms and other supplies, as well as being a key transport route for them.

This was confirmed today by government spokesman Dr Moussa Ibrahim AND at a press conference by tribal leaders of up to 200 Libyan tribes. This includes four of the leaders of four of the largest Libyan tribes which make up half the Libyan population: Wafalla, Tarhouna, Zlitan, Washafana. They have all supported leader Muammar Gaddafi.

The tribal leaders also confirmed that Zawiya, Ghuriyan and Sorman, are secure, in contrast to claims by foreign reporters in Tripoli and Djerba (Tunisia) that they have been taken by the rebels. There are pockets of rebels in these areas, but they are isolated and surrounded by the Libyan army and Libyan tribes. But of course, the claims of some mainstream journalists who have next to no knowledge of Libya will determine the orientalist public opinion of the west. These claims stand in stark contradiction to the reports of the Libyan tribes who of course know their land with great intimacy.

It is clear that these claims were designed to try and boost the moral of the rebels which just goes from one disaster to another, and also to try and create panic amongst the Libyan population. Also, they have been desperately trying to secure some victory before August 17th (17 day of Ramadan), a very important date in the Islamic calendar. This was the date of Prophet Muhammad’s victory in the Battle of Badr.

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