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Military Family Suicides

Posted by libhom Sunday, February 07, 2010

Most of the people reading this blog have heard about the disturbingly high suicide rates among our troops and vets from Iraq. (No one seems to be keeping track of the mercenaries, but our country tries to pretend they don't exist.)

Reading a posting a little while back from Gold Star Mom Speaks Out alerted me to another terrible aspect of the Iraq quagmire: military family suicides.

Defense.gov has a big section from a speech by Deborah Mullen, wife of the Chair of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, on the subject:

“As I look at the numbers for each service, the rates have gone up per capita at about the same rate over the past four or five years for every service,” he said. “This isn’t just a ground-force problem.”

Suicide is a growing problem that leaders have to commit to, and experts who study suicide prevention must help those leaders understand the causes, Mullen said. The military’s leaders are eager to implement programs and better prevention measures, he added.

Mullen advocated for better overall training for servicemembers, noting that the military has a tendency to focus on training, whether it’s field or mental fitness, during the deployment-readiness cycle. Training for troops and their family members must start from the day they swear in, he said.

“We have a tendency to cycle [training] to get you ready before you deploy, but I would argue that with where we are right now, we have to have a continuum of readiness that starts to educate families from Day One about the challenges the lie ahead, the information that is available [and] the networks that are out there in these challenging times, so that we can hopefully avoid crisis,” he said.

Suicide among military family members also is a growing concern for the military. Deborah Mullen said that although much focus has been given to suicide prevention for servicemembers and assistance for survivors of suicide victims, more must be done for the families. Family members also need training to build resilience and learn how to deal with the stress of deployments, she said.

“There’s another side to this, and that’s family members who’ve committed suicide,” she said. “It’s our responsibility. These are our family members.”

Families are under great stress, too, she said, noting that watching their loved ones deploy repeatedly can be equally as strenuous on families at it is on the deploying servicemembers.

“I think we need to realize that we have families that are under such great stress,” the chairman’s wife said. “This stress is only going to continue. We need to be able to give tools to family members who are left behind.

“I hope the families are something you will look at as you work through these really challenging problems,” she told the audience. “We do have family members that we need to be aware of, and we need to get our arms around the number of suicide attempts and actual suicides and the impact on the family.”

Gold Star Mom brings up an additional point that we all need to take into account:
I'm pretty sure that most parents who get that knock on the door consider suicide as one of their options, if only briefly, during those difficult days after they receive the terrible news of the death of their child. I know of too many parents who want to crawl inside at the first view of the flag covered coffin. One more hug, one more embrace. If only they could trade their life for their child's.

Please do not forget the Gold Star parents!

We need to think about the human costs of wars before we start them so glibly.



  1. Unknown Says:
  2. Your last sentence is so true. And the families of those who survive life shattering physical disabilities on top of the psychological ones. The stress on those family members is very, very high.


  3. Jolly Roger Says:
  4. It's like this; the deferment-loving cowards (and their compatriots, like Ted Nugent) feel that anybody who gets shot up in one of the wars they love so much was "too stupid" to avoid serving.

    That's what they thought back when they were avoiding Vietnam, and that's what they think NOW. They don't give a damn how many of the riff-raff get knocked off.

    That's why I am in favor of a return to the draft, with NO deferments. Let Chip and Buffy's parents sweat for awhile. And then watch how many of these yellow magnet, flag lapel pin "patriots" turn into vociferous peaceniks overnight.

  5. I don't think that I can write very much on this, because it's often too hard to control my emotions if I let myself think about it. My uncle was a vet who committed suicide back in 2007. A couple of months ago, his daughter made a suicide attempt that, thankfully, wasn't successful. The military doesn't seem to give a damn about the families left behind, including mine. Thank you for writing about this.



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