The U.S. military has been under fire for the issue of rampant sexual assault among its servicemembers, but another severe problem, which has not been properly addressed, has been plaguing the military for years, and continues to increase in severity: mental illness.
The amount of suicides among U.S. active-duty troops has risen steadily over the last decade, and reached a record number last year. The number of U.S. soldiers who committed suicide in 2012 is greater than the number who died in combat in Afghanistan during the same year, according to the Pentagon.
As reporter Nancy Goldstein reports in The American Prospect, “there’s only been one thing better documented than the military’s unwillingness over the past 25 years to throw any real muscle into ending its culture of widespread sexual assault. And that’s the military’s unwillingness to acknowledge the prevalence of post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) and other mental health issues plaguing its service members.”
The Government Accountability Office (GAO) stated in a report last November that “a lack of leadership, oversight, resources, and collaboration has contributed to the [Defense] department’s inability to address problems for “wounded, ill, and injured servicemembers.”
Another report issued by the GAO last year found that Department of Defense (DOD) “programs supporting P.H. [psychological health] and TBI [traumatic brain injury] treatment and research are poorly coordinated,” even after the Pentagon was given $2.7 billion to address the “signature wounds of the wars in Afghanistan and Iraq.”
Just last week, The New York Times released an article about the “baffling” rise in military suicides. But the military has, for years, been aware of the need for prompt and appropriate mental health treatment of active-duty soldiers and veterans.
In 2010, NPR and ProPublica released a report based on their investigation, which determined that “The military medical system is failing to diagnose brain injuries in troops who served in Iraq and Afghanistan.” Traumatic brain injuries have been prevalent effects of the two wars, and cause lasting mental and physical harm. It was reported in 2006 that one third of Iraq/Afghanistan veterans were seeking treatment from the Veteran’s Administration (VA) for “stress or other mental disorders.”
The University of Utah released a report this month revealing that multiple traumatic brain injuries can significantly increase the risk of suicide among soldiers. While PTSD and traumatic brain injuries are correlated with depression and suicidal thoughts, this new study finds that people who suffer more than one mild traumatic brain injury have a “significantly higher risk of suicide.”
But, as with victims of sexual assault in the military, there is a stigma attached to mental illness in the military, which causes victims to fear making their problems known or seeking help. That, coupled with the military’s seeming lack of effort to provide appropriate mental health resources and diagnoses, or, for that matter, even acknowledge that mental illness among troops is a serious issue, is causing individuals to have to deal with their problems alone.
Alisha is a writer and researcher for Ring of Fire.