An epidemic of veteran suicides

A real letter I got when I was in Iraq.

Above is an inspiring letter received while I was deployed to Iraq. As I read it today, I am reminded that the sad thing about the letter is that more active-duty soldiers and Marines are giving their lives up by their own hands than they are in combat. It is being considered an epidemic of suicide with 349 deaths in 2012 alone.

The story for soldiers and Marines who escape the war machine, it is even more dire. Every 65 minutes, a veteran commits suicide. About 22 a day which is a gruesome record. Veterans make up 21% of all suicides in America. Think about that for a second: veterans make up a little more than 12% of the population, yet account for 21% of all suicides in 2010.

Their deaths should be—no, must be—considered and added to the war body counts. They are as much casualties of war as those who were blown up senselessly by Barack Obama’s drones. The mental anguish of killing and being part of something so unjust that it permeates the essence of who you are and your identity. There is blood in our hands and some of us can see it.

Consider the recent story about William Busbee:

“Mom, it won’t wash off,” he said.

“What are you talking about?” she replied.

“The blood. It won’t come off.”

On 20 March last year, the soldier’s striving for self-cleanliness came to a sudden end. That night he locked himself in his car and, with his mother and two sisters screaming just a few feet away and with Swat officers encircling the vehicle, he shot himself in the head.

[…]

William told his mother: “You would hate me if you knew what I’ve done out there.”

“I will never hate you. You are the same person you always were,” she said.

“No, Mom,” he countered. “The son you loved died over there.”

And then the striking parallel to Jared Hagemann’s statements to his wife before he took his own life:

Ashley says her husband Jared tried to come to grips with what he’d seen and done on his eight deployments in Iraq and Afghanistan.

“And there’s no way that any God would forgive him – that he was going to hell,” says Ashley. “He couldn’t live with that any more.”

The thing that is important to remember, beyond the psychological scars incurred by these troops and the lost of lives, is the affect it has on their families and the social fabric of the communities they belong to.

So what is the solution? We should just come home.

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