The horrors of war can haunt veterans long after active duty. In 2012 alone, nearly 22 veterans committed suicide each day. According to United States Department of Defense, the death rate from suicide far exceeded the number of troops killed in battle (1 per day). This sobering reality becomes even more startling when you consider the fact that veterans are twice as likely to commit suicide than the general population. Unsurprisingly, recent studies found that combat veterans - as opposed to veterans who didn't deploy - are more likely to experience serious mental health concerns and are more prone to take their own lives. Some studies even indicate suicide rates amongst veterans may be understated. Why the epidemic?
It should come as no surprise that war has an extremely negative impact on soldiers. Imagine the guilt, anger and remorse one must feel from taking another's life. Imagine the trauma of losing fellow soldiers and friends to battle. Imagine being in a war zone for years — away from your family and friends in an unfamiliar land.
Human beings, no matter how much training they undergo and how desensitized they become, can only handle so much trauma and adversity. Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder consumes even the hardiest of soldiers. For many combat veterans, surviving battle only guarantees one to experience emotional turmoil and pain for years to come. And many veterans are left with poor psychiatric care if they are even treated in the first place. Suicide is often viewed as an escape from a horrifying and painful reality. Do veterans really get the psychiatric treatment that they need?
I recently met with a Psychologist who specializes in treating combat veterans suffering from PTSD. After working with veterans for years, not only has he become jaded by war and it's devastating impact on young men and women, he openly questions his ability to effectively treat veterans. But, not for the reasons one might think. Over the years, he has repeatedly come across a common problem that he has no control over. Many veterans cannot talk about the horrifying circumstances they have experienced because the information may be 'classified.' Many veterans are unable to talk about their trauma — possibly for decades — because the mission or information surrounding the events has been classified. Could you imagine the feeling? Could you imagine the guilt? Could you imagine the anger? Imagine the 'secrets' they must keep to themselves. I can't.
I couldn't help myself from asking this Psychologist why he thought so much of this information was classified. His response shocked me: "We do some horrible things to other people and other countries." He could not elaborate on the statement, but I understood the implications. Given some of the recent issues that have come to light by military whistleblowers, his statement completely makes sense.
A Green Beret was recently discharged from the Army for blowing the whistle on military brass who instructed soldiers to 'ignore' suspicions of allied Afghan forces raping boys. In 2004, some American soldiers and contractors were accused of raping Columbian children. No one faced prosecution for the alleged crimes due to an immunity agreement between The United States and Columbia.
I feel terrible for our veterans — not only have they experienced life-changing trauma, it seems as though they must keep 'secrets' at the expense of their mental health. And I don't think all of the information is classified to protect national security interests. A cursory glance at military history suggests otherwise. Our veterans need more than effective mental health treatment, we need to stop sending our young men and women into endless war.