THE BLOG
08/02/2010 11:36 am ET Updated May 25, 2011

We Can't Prevent Suicides and PTSD in the Military

The latest information released by the U.S. Army reveals that last year American soldiers attempted suicide at the rate of about 5/day. There were 160 successful suicides last year and during June the rate was 1/day. Military research has reported that one in ten Iraq veterans may develop a severe case of PTSD.

As statistics such as these continue to emerge there is a continued outcry that something should be done about it. A report issued by the U.S. Army mistakenly minimized the fact that these psychological casualties are a result combat and the realities of war. The Army review concluded "simply stated, we are often more dangerous to ourselves than the enemy." It went on to say that commanders have failed to identify and monitor soldiers prone to risk taking behavior and as a result suicides among soldier have soared. This is a misguided view that somehow if we did the right thing we could prevent these events.

We haven't been able to prevent the increasing number of Americans being killed by IEDs. War is hell and soldiers get killed. We train them the best way that we know how, but inevitably soldiers die when there is a war. Maybe some soldiers, despite the best training available, aren't quite as good in a combat situation as others. Some may be able to know when to zig rather than zag. Some have better instincts than others and that may make them more likely to survive. Some inherently may be able to handle the stress of war better than others. However, the best training in the world and all the preventive measures in the world will not eliminate combat injuries and death. Nor can PTSD and suicides be avoided. The most combat savvy soldiers in our military cannot hide from a bullet with their name on it nor can the most well adjusted soldiers avoid being affected by extraordinary human experiences in a war zone.

Of course, we should always strive to improve our training, safety and efficiency in the battle field. Of course, we should always strive to provide the best medical care (which includes psychological care) to our soldiers.

We need also to honor our soldiers who are injured and those of have died serving their country. We give "Purple Hearts" to soldiers who have been wounded and bury with honor those who have given their lives for their country. President Obama will write a letter of condolence to their families of these fallen soldiers with the exception of those soldiers who suffer psychological injuries. There is no purple heart for those with PTSD and there is no letter of condolence from the President to the families of those who died from suicide. This is outrageous! These men and women have all volunteered and knew they could be in harms way. There is no basis for treating them as if they purposefully became psychological casualties There is no way to minimize the grief of their loved ones but this failure to acknowledge their loss only compounds it.

For more information on this topic see :
Why Hasn't President Obama Changed His Policy on Condolence Letters? ( Huffington Post )
Condolence For Soldier Suicide ( PsychiatryTalk.com)