Thursday, January 17, 2013

349 military suicides "not such an unreasonable number"

The stupidity never ends but even so you don't expect it from the editorial board of the Fayetteville Observer.  Or maybe you do?  For all it's pretense of caring for the troops the paper really is about burying systematic issues that embarrass the military.  I can remember when, for example, a pregnant Marine vanished.  She'd sworn out a complaint against a man she served with, rape was the charge.  She vanishes pregnant.  She later turns up burned and buried in the man she charged with rape's backyard.  A number of outlets actually led on this in the immediate hours after she went missing.  The Fayettvile Observer, sensing what an embarrassment this was and how clearly it indicted a failure of command?, was forever playing half-hearted catch up.

We're talking about Maria Lauterbach.  Go to the archives,  we started covering her disappearance in January 2008, start with the January 10, 2008 snapshot and January 11, 2008 snapshot, and notice who we're linking to and who we're not.  To be clear, she was dead by then.  If the Fayettville Observer -- North Carolina's leading paper -- had seriously covered the story at that point, it wouldn't have saved her life.  But it might have meant that her killer didn't slip off base, it might have meant that the killer Cesar Laurean didn't run off to Mexico where he hid out for several years.  It might have meant that the smearing and attacking of Maria Lauterbach, a woman who couldn't defend herself, might have been less or even not at all.

But that would have required that the paper do its job.  It never did.  Doing its job would have required embarrassing the command which allowed an April 2007 rape complaint to go unaddressed.  Questions should have been asked that were never asked like why wasn't Maria forced to be in the same room as the man she'd accused of rape?  Why did the military drag its feet?

A real paper would have led on that.  A real paper would have demanded answers and led the coverage.

The local news channels covered it like crazy.  It's to their credit that the story went national.  They deserve praise.  But the state's biggest newspaper was ho-hum on the story.

At the start of the week, Robert Burns (AP) reported that there were 349 suicides by active-duty service members in 2012 -- approximately "one per day."  Yesterday, Peter Johnson (ABC 57 -- link is video) reported that the Pentagon had confirmed the number.  Today the editorial board of the Observer feels the best way to deal with the suicide crisis is to tie a red bow around it and offer nonsense like, "Might it be possible, given all those differences and potential outcomes, that 349 is not such an unreasonable number?"

Suicide, no big deal?  Floated by the non-brain trust of the Fayetteville Observer.  Another infamous moment for a paper with far too many infamous moments.

Kathy Anderson is with Veterans QuestErin Toner (WUWM -- link is text and audio) speaks with her and others about the suicide epidemic:

Anderson says for the past few weeks, she’s been providing around-the-clock care to a Milwaukee veteran whose good friend – another vet – took her own life on Christmas Day. Anderson says the surviving veteran is now also suicidal because of his grief.
“I know I sound angry but I am. I’ve been awake night after night making sure that this one soldier does not die, and that he understands that his life is valuable. He has a wife. He has children,” Anderson says.
Veteran Quest has 10 therapists. Most are volunteers because there is not enough money to pay everyone. Anderson says she’s had trouble getting grants to fund the clinic. Foundations tell her the money is going to other veteran organizations.
She says to stem the tide of military suicides, there needs to be a national commitment to develop more mental health clinics for soldiers and their families, and to train more providers in trauma therapy.

Kathy Anderson doesn't have the luxury of trying to please the military command, she's dealing with real issues.  Today the Fayetteville Observer had the nerve to float,  "Might it be possible, given all those differences and potential outcomes, that 349 is not such an unreasonable number?"  Kerry Cavanaugh (WBAL -- link is text and video) reported yesterday, "349 in 2012 alone -- that's the highest number on record, a grim figure that some predict will get worse."  Nicholas Pierce (Daily Reveille) speaks with two veterans (their real names are not used) about suicide:

Not long ago, Hall was an active duty non-commissioned officer in the U.S. Marine Corps. He served two tours overseas, one in Iraq and one in Afghanistan, but in some ways he never fully came home.
“I battle with suicide daily. I don’t find life rewarding anymore. Before my service, I was happy,” Hall said. “I can't put my finger on it -- where the depression comes from. I don’t know why we were over there, I didn’t feel like I was fighting for the flag or for my family. I don’t know why my friends died.”

The editorial board for Eugene's Register Guard observes, "But it’s painfully clear that the military doesn’t yet understand how to deal with the issue of suicide. A complex weave of causes range from the strains on military personnel burdened with more than a decade of combat in Afghanistan and Iraq to the anxiety -- familiar also to those in civilian life -- about the prospect of being forced out of a downsizing military."  That's an editorial board, one concerned about real issues.

June 22, 2009, the Senate Armed Services Committee held a hearing on the topic of military suicides.  At that hearing Committee Chair Carl Levin offered some basic figures.

Chair Carl Levin: The increase in suicides by military personnel in the last few years is alarming.  In 2007, 115 Army soldiers committed suicide; in 2008 the number increased to 140, and to 162 in 2009. Similarly, 33 Marines committed suicides in 2007; 42 in 2008, and 52 in 2009.  I understand that there are a number of additional cases where the Armed Forces Medical Examiner has not yet concluded whether the deaths are by suicide, so the 2009 numbers will likely be even higher.  These increases indicate that despite the services' efforts, there is still much work to be done. We must improve our suicide prevention efforts to reverse the number of services members taking their own lives.  I am greatly concerned about the increasing numbers of troops returning from combat with post traumatic stress and traumatic brain injuries and the number of those troops who may have experienced concussive injuries that were never diagnosed. 

The Senate was alarmed when the numbers were much lower.  The trend has been for the numbers to rise each year.  But that's okay with the Fayetteville Observer's edtiorial board. That's not okay and let's point out one more time that it is appalling that there is talk of the next Secretary of Defense and no one is tying this issue to the post.  This is one of two crises the next Secretary has to seriously address (assault and rape being the other). 

At Iraq and Afghanistan Veterans of America, Paul Rieckhoff weighs in on the topic including:

This national crisis has building for years. In 2012, the number of suicides rose by a shocking 16%. And this number even fails to account for the veterans who commit suicide after they leave the military - a number which no one officially tracks. But the VA estimated in 2009 that 18 veterans commit suicide every day. In IAVA’s 2012 Member Survey, 37% of our members said someone they served with or another post-9/11 vet they knew had committed suicide.
For the last decade, IAVA has fought for policy changes in Washington, including the establishment of the Suicide Prevention Line through the Joshua Omvig suicide prevention bill and the institution of mandatory mental health screenings. We also supported recent legislation that strengthens suicide prevention measures across the DoD and VA.
We haven’t found the perfect solution yet - but we aren’t letting up. We’ve built many effective programs and partnerships that support and empower veterans and their families in need of mental health support. The caseworkers for IAVA’s innovative Rapid Response Referral Program (RRRP) connect with vets experiencing suicidal ideation and other transition-related challenges. It’s still a New York-focused pilot program – but we’re trying to scale up operations quickly, as we know how important services like this are.
In 2008, IAVA also partnered with the Ad Council to launch one of the largest non-governmental public service announcement (PSA) campaigns in American history, reaching tens of thousands of veterans. Through this partnership, we introduced Community of Veterans (COV) - a vets-only social network where they can talk about a wide range of issues in a safe place.
And IAVA’s partnership with the VA’s confidential Veterans Crisis Line (800-273-8255 press 1) is another step in the right direction. Through this service, vets can get immediate care from professionals. Please take a moment to save the number in your phone; you never know when it will come in handy for you or a buddy.

The following community sites -- plus Pacifica Evening News, Adam Kokesh, IVAW,  C-SPAN, and the Senate Foreign Relations Committee -- updated last night and this morning:

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