The 9/11 attacks changed the U.S military and diplomatic politics forever. In response to the heinous and cowardly acts of the terrorists, America embarked on the most extensive military campaign in history.
Sadly, it has come at a high cost. An estimated 30,177 service members and veterans have committed suicide since 9/11. In comparison, only a quarter of that has been claimed by the enemy. This is a testament to the steep mental health cost of our current conflicts.
In this article, we explore the unique situations that contribute to this alarming trend.
Traumatic Experience and PTSD
The number one contributor to suicidal tendencies is traumatic events. Studies show that almost half of the service members have experienced at least one traumatic event in Afghanistan.
According to the World Health Organization, exposure to multiple traumatic events increases the likelihood of suicide.
Usually, service members with PTSD experienced, witnessed, or perpetrated the event. The body’s response in such situations is to create intense fear. The affected service member becomes unable to turn off the body’s alarm system. When combined with other life pressures, they can easily crack.
All military personnel undergo intense training to prepare them for the horrors of war. Fresh recruits are often reconfigured and reinforced to make it easy for them to kill. For effective teamwork, service members are trained to take responsibility and be resilient.
All this culture works well in the context of war but does the opposite to victims.
In an environment where weakness is detested, many active members and veterans shy from seeking help. Instead, they try to use their training and “be strong.” This approach only isolates them further and leaves them with no support system through their difficulties.
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The military is open to citizens from all walks of life. However, your personal beliefs take a backseat after enlisting. The training focuses on freeing your mind from all shackles and focusing on the threat at hand.
According to the V.A, moral injuries occur when you take part in events that contract your moral beliefs.
As a result, the affected person experiences deep internal conflict. In a sense, their moral compass is spun out of control. These feelings consume service members upon retirement. The symptoms include remorse, grief, anger, shame, and bitterness. Their sense of guilt may drive the person to suicide.
Struggle with Civilian Life
The transition from military to civilian is never easy. According to Pewresearch, 44% of service members report some difficulty in returning to civilian life. Retiring often means losing one’s identity and purpose. There is also a lot of free time as a civilian with is often filled with grief for fallen comrades, regret, and trauma.
The perception by the general population can also put veterans on edge. They are seen as unstable and dangerous. This is in stark contrast to World War II veterans, who were seen as heroes. Add this to day struggles of civilian life like divorce, and it can be overwhelming.
Access to Lethal Means
Research shows that 68% of veteran suicides involve the use of a firearm. Among active service members, firearms account for 64% of suicide attempts. The main reason is that this weapon is readily available. A large percentage of veterans own both long and short-range firearms.
Controlling access to firearms in active duty is nearly impossible. The only options are to educate them on mental health.
With veterans, screening can help limit gun ownership among high-risk individuals. Unfortunately, identifying the red flags is easier said than done. The matter is extremely controversial as well when considering the 2nd Amendment and protecting individuals from themselves.
The Department of Defense and other stakeholders have ramped up programs to prevent military suicides. While these efforts are commendable, a lot more still needs to be done.
The rate of military suicide continues to increase every year. Physical trauma, stress, PTSD, difficulty to readjust, and access to firearms are the significant contributors. As the U.S prepared to withdraw from the Middle East, we can only hope these incidents will go down.