Michael Prysner is a veteran of the war in Iraq and an anti-war activist
This article was originally posted on OurLivesOurRights.org
The U.S. Army revealed that July yielded the highest number of active-duty soldier suicides on record, with 38 in just a single month (this number does not include other branches of service, or Iraq and Afghanistan veterans who commit suicide once they get out of the military).
In the same month 30 U.S. soldiers were killed in Afghanistan, the highest number in a single month so far this year, who should have never been sent to their deaths in the first place.
Suicides outpacing combat deaths has been a reality for years. In 2008, 2009 and 2010 there were more suicides in the active-duty Army than there were killed in Afghanistan.
Those who took their own lives, in reality, did not kill themselves. Our psychological bleeding started when we were sent by lying, crooked politicians to occupy a civilian population against their will. Once the bleeding started, they were killed by the long-exposed willful negligence by the military chain-of-command and millionaire politicians who refuse to address the suicide crisis and say there’s “not enough money” for adequate mental health services (all while they write blank checks to multi-billion-dollar defense contractors.)
The suicide epidemic and failure crisis in Army mental health is not a new story. The military brass and politicians in Washington have been well-aware, with intense public pressure, that urgent, emergency action is needed to stop the daily (yes, daily) suicide of active-duty troops.
But, their response to the epidemic—being experienced by those they pat on the back and say “we support the troops” when they send us to war—has not only been complete inaction in making necessary changes to address the crisis, but in fact trying harder to deny treatment for PTSD and sweep the problem under the rug.
Our officers are the real enemy and danger to our lives
The worst offenders have been our own commanding officers. It is a known fact that general officers have ordered their subordinate Army psychologists to not diagnose soldiers with PTSD in order to keep those soldiers eligible to deploy to combat again, and to deny them compensation and treatment that “wastes taxpayer money.” Soldiers can literally walk into a mental health clinic on base with documented combat experience and trauma, tell the doctor they want to commit suicide, beg for help, and be told they are fine and sent back to their unit.
In addition to scandals over denying a legitimate diagnosis and treatment, the officer corps is responsible for creating a culture of harassment, intimidation and shame for those seeking help for PTSD. Anyone serving in today’s military knows the reality for traumatized troops; they are called a “malingerers,” told they are lying, are publicly berated and shamed in their units for seeking help, forced to deploy again and even formally punished for their symptoms.
Even if a soldier is lucky enough to get diagnosed and medically discharged with PTSD, the officer-run discharge process can take years and is so notoriously grueling, unfair, uncaring and stressful, that it is more likely to drive soldiers closer to suicide.
The officers’ facilitation of criminally negligent and inadequate treatment, coupled with the encouraged, open culture of shame and intimidation for those seeking help, it is no surprise that so many resort to suicide. Yet, every time these shocking statistics come out, the officers scratch their heads and say “we have no idea why this is happening!”
Sometimes they reveal their true feelings, like top commander at Fort Bliss, Major General Dana Pittard, who said in an official blog post “I’m personally fed up with soldiers who are choosing to take their own lives so that others can clean up their mess... suicide is an absolutely selfish act... be an adult and deal with your problems like the rest of us.”
Just like when a police department investigates itself for its own acts of misconduct, it’s no surprise the officer corps absolves themselves of all responsibility when their blatant misconduct is in the spotlight.
If a soldier was lying on the battlefield with a bullet wound and their commanding officer accused that soldier of lying, made fun of them, and did not allow the medic to treat the wound, that officer would (maybe) be disciplined when that soldier died. But when they do the same exact thing to wounded troops with PTSD, on a massive scale with hundreds now needlessly lost to suicide, they don’t even get a slap on the wrist.
And if a commanding officer was known to deny wounded soldiers on the battlefield a tourniquet or field dressing to make them needlessly bleed to death, it would be perfectly reasonable and accepted for the soldiers under him to refuse their orders into combat. The situation with suicide and PTSD is no different.
The 38 Army suicides in July are the direct result of the actions of the officers who are in control of our lives. And with 30 soldiers killed in action in July, it reveals that in reality our own officers are more a danger to our lives than the so-called “enemy.”
There is a way out
Also in July, along with the highest suicides on record, the most revealing Pentagon-funded study on military suicides was released. Dozens of soldiers who had attempted suicide and failed were polled about why they did so. The conclusion was this: “It’s not that people who attempt suicide want to harm themselves... but they want the pain they’re in to stop and they don’t see any other way out.”
This reveals plainly and conclusively that the unwillingness and inability of the officer corps to treat psychologically traumatized soldiers with any dignity or fairness, locking them in a maze of a broken health care system with cruel harassment to top it off, feeling that there is no escape from that nightmare but death, is the reason we’re killing ourselves at the rate of one per day.
But the number one reason for suicide—the common belief among service members that there’s “no other way out—isn’t true.
In late June, March Forward! launched a new campaign called ‘Our Lives Our Rights,’ designed to help service members collectively fight-back against the reckless orders of the officers and politicians, specifically helping them get out of the military and resist orders to Afghanistan.
The reality is, there is a way out. The way out is understanding that the officers that control our lives are powerless in the face of a united movement of active-duty troops and veterans collectively standing up for our rights. The way out is publicly demanding, alongside other troops, adequate mental health treatment, and exposing the broken system. The way out is exercising our right to become a conscientious objector, entitling one to an honorable discharge with full benefits. The way out is going AWOL, denouncing the military command for being responsible, and fighting the charges in court with a support network behind us.
Dozens of service members saw these ways out and exercised their rights. But not just for themselves; they formed the Our Lives Our Rights campaign to reach-out to other troops who think they’re trapped and to help them do the same.
This suicide epidemic makes crystal clear that our officers and “elected” leaders care nothing about our lives, and especially not the lives of those we’re told we’re “liberating.” It proves that combat vets have the absolute right to refuse to deploy to war again—but more importantly, it proves that service members who have not yet deployed have the absolute right to refuse to go to Afghanistan to get PTSD in the first place. It's a war we have no reason to fight, against people who are not our real enemies.
Our leaders have shown for years that all we can expect from them is more reckless orders to a bloody, unpopular war against people who we have no reason to fight, and more neglect and mistreatment when we get home.
The suicide crisis will only be solved by the collective action of service members and veterans themselves. No solution will come from our chain-of-command—the solution is fighting our chain-of-command.
To learn more about the Our Lives Our Rights campaign, how to get help, or how to get involved, visit www.OurLivesOurRights.org.
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