Thursday, August 5, 2010

Army Study: Suicides Due to ‘Risky Behavior’ and ‘Lax Discipline’
by Kristina Derro

An article published in “USA Today” reviewed the recent findings from an Army study. The study found that in 2009, 160 active-duty soldiers committed suicide, 146 more died during “risky activity” such as drug use, and 1,713 soldiers attempted suicide. The study found that a record high number of suicides are linked to a “permissive” Army environment where soldiers use alcohol and drugs, commit crimes, and refuse to get psychological help.

General Peter Chiarelli was quoted as saying that “[w]e must realize that on occasion we need to do the right thing for both the soldier and the Army through firm enforcement of discipline, retention, and separation policies”. The Army determined that the push to prepare and deploy troops into combat zones has caused commanders to become lax on prosecuting disciplinary cases, completing paperwork on disciplinary cases, doing unannounced urinalysis testing, and checking barracks.

The report found that too many soldiers who failed drug tests or committed crimes were allowed to remain in the Army because the Army was focused on a commitment to combat in Iraq and Afghanistan and allowed routine oversight of soldier behavior to lapse. The report continued, explaining that “[s]oldiers who ultimately take their lives have typically been engaging in high-risk behavior long before their tragic end….Ultimately it poses the question: Where has the Army’s leadership in garrison gone?”

It seems that yet another Army study has missed the mark, to put it lightly. Claiming that soldiers who commit suicide are engaged in “high-risk” behaviors beforehand is ludicrous and seems to imply that the Army is filled with drug addicts who engage in criminal behavior. Perhaps if the Army investigated what it alluded to in the article—a push to keep its soldiers in combat—it would find the true reason behind the high suicide rate. Mental health concerns have skyrocketed in the Army. With both long and repeated deployments, soldiers face the rigors of war on a daily basis, sometimes for years on end. It’s understandable that depression, anxiety, and posttraumatic stress disorder are on the rise, leading soldiers to attempt suicide or self-medicate through drinking and drugs.

While discipline and order belong in the Army, the Army should also investigate the way it handles mental health treatment. More access to services, less stigma or negativity if the soldier does seek treatment, and perhaps mandatory mental health treatment for returning combat soldiers would all help lessen the increasing levels of mental health concerns. Less mental health concerns in turn means less self-medicating and less suicide.

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