06/04/2008 05:12 am ET Updated May 25, 2011

Shocker: As Suicides Surge, Military Reveals 40,000 Cases of PTSD

The Pentagon released new figures today revealing that 40,000 U.S. troops have been diagnosed with post-traumatic stress disorder since the Iraq war began in 2003. Bad enough, but officials believe many more are keeping their illness secret.

Army Surgeon General Eric Schoomaker admits that officials have no reliable figures on how many troops have PTSD or how many have sought treatment for it after serving in the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan.

As press reports proliferate concerning Iraq vet suicides, officials are encouraging troops to get help, even if they go to civilian therapists and don't report it to the military. So the 40,000 cases are only those the military knows of. A Rand Corp. study recently suggested that 300,000 vets suffered from some sort of mental problems.

"Many troops don't report getting treatment - or don't get help - because they're embarrassed or fear it will hurt their careers," an AP account observes.

All this comes on the day after many newspapers, for Memorial Day, carried graphic accounts of soldier suicides, some of which I have written about here days or weeks ago. A man wrote an op-ed in the Chicago Tribune about how his son killed himself in the family's study on Thanksgiving Day. The Los Angeles Times probed a murder case involving a soldier with PTSD who shot a friend between the eyes while they played a game that went awry.

The Fort Worth Star-Telegram profiled the family of another suicide victim, this one in Iraq. He shot himself in front of his own men after weeks of witnessing the deaths of his comrades.

Chris Vaughan wrote: "On July 11, 2007, in a violent Baghdad neighborhood, Master Sgt. Jeffrey R. McKinney killed himself. He put his M-4 rifle to his neck and pulled the trigger.

"There was no Purple Heart, and the Defense Department announced it as a 'non-combat-related incident.' But Jeffrey McKinney, 40, a company first sergeant and a 19-year Army veteran, is no less a casualty of the war in Iraq than the thousands of young men and women who have been killed by sniper fire and roadside bombs.

"Some injuries just can't be seen." McKinney's unit had recently lost numerous men to suicide bombs. He had picked up body parts and blamed himself. Medications did not help.

The anger of his parents has mostly settled on President Bush, for starting the war in Iraq in the first place, and the Army, for not protecting their son. The article continues:

Blaming the president is not something Charles does easily. He's a Vietnam veteran and never believed that a person could support the troops and not the war. They're intertwined, he would say, and argued with anyone who said otherwise.

"I wanted to defend Bush," he said. "After a while, it sunk into me that this war took my only son. I just can't imagine more parents going through this. I want our boys home."

As for the Army, Jeff's mother, father and stepmother place blame on his commanders for not recognizing the danger Jeff was in.

"I don't mind telling you that I personally hold the company commander responsible," he said. "This man made a poor decision. We want to call attention to the military's responsibility and to make sure that people are aware of the signs, because Jeff gave a million signs that he needed help."

The article can be found at:
Greg Mitchell's new book has several chapters on Iraq vet suicide. It is So Wrong for So Long: How the Press, the Pundits -- and the President -- Failed on Iraq. It features a preface by Bruce Springsteen and a foreword by Joe Galloway.