February 23, 2004

Newsweek: Where's The Army's Suicide Report?

UPI(2/19/04)reports that up to 10% of US soldiers
evacuated from Iraq and Afghanistan (approximately
1,000)for treatment at Landstuhl Regional Medical
Center in Germany had "psychiatric or behavioral
health issues." And Sen. John F. Kerry (D-Mekong
Delta) has written a personal letter to the _resident,
raising the gutter politics issue of chickenhawks
sliming true patriots and challenging him to a debate
on Vietnam and Iraq. But the airwaves were filled all
weekend with "gay marriages" and the-shell-of-man-formerly-known-as-Ralph-Nader...Well, of course...the Emperor has no uniform...

T. Trent Gegax, Newsweek: Military members and their
families are asking the same question: Where is the
Army’s so-called suicide report? It’s the work of the
12-member Mental Health Advisory Team, commissioned by
the top generals in charge of the Iraq war after a
string of battlefield suicides. It was initially due
out last Thanksgiving. Then it was supposed to be
released in early February. Now, there’s talk that
it’s been shelved indefinitely.

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Where's The Army's Suicide Report?
By T. Trent Gegax

Saturday 21 February 2004

Waiting For Answers, Is the Army sandbagging its anticipated 'suicide report'?

Military members and their families are asking the same question: Where is the Army’s so-called suicide report? It’s the work of the 12-member Mental Health Advisory Team, commissioned by the top generals in charge of the Iraq war after a string of battlefield suicides. It was initially due out last Thanksgiving.
Then it was supposed to be released in early February. Now, there’s talk that it’s been shelved indefinitely.

Is the Army deliberately sitting on the report?
Perhaps. Or perhaps it’s just focusing on other
priorities in rebuilding Iraq and preparing to hand
back sovereignty to its citizens. No one would argue
these aren’t massive missions. And, to be sure, the
vast majority of soldiers, even those exposed to the
most grotesque and horrific combat trauma, may
experience only mild post-traumatic stress disorder
that requires minor counseling before they bounce
back. But evidence suggests that a wave of
combat-fatigued soldiers—as many as 20 percent of the
130,000 troops in the field—not seen since the
aftermath of the Vietnam War is about to come crashing
onto American shores.

Late last year, publicity about the spate of
suicides among U.S. troops in Iraq prompted Gen. John
Abizaid and Lt. Gen. Ricardo Sanchez, the top
commanders in Iraq, to look for causes. But the report
has been complete for months. Yet the colonel in
charge of the study can’t convince either general to
allow him to brief them on the findings, which,
Pentagon sources told NEWSWEEK recently, are not
exactly earth-shattering. It says a total of 19
soldiers serving in the Iraq campaign committed
suicide in 2003, a number that officials acknowledge
is “above average.” What’s more interesting is what
the study ignores. NEWSWEEK has learned that it did
not touch on the issue of Lariam, the anti-malaria
drug that causes psychotic episodes in a small
percentage of people who take it. It had been cited as
a potential cause of three prominent murder-suicides
at Ft. Bragg, N.C., where soldiers returned from
combat in Afghanistan and killed their wives. The Army
issued a report dismissing Lariam, but the
investigation was cursory and less than conclusive,
according to a senior officer at the Army Medical
Command in San Antonio, Tex.

Another problem: According to Army sources in Iraq
and in the United States, the report’s findings
underplay the state of mind of soldiers in Iraq. In a
development common to the U.S. armed forces, the
colonel in charge of the research team was told what
he wanted to hear by savvy officers, according to a
source close to the investigation. A few members of
combat stress teams have soft-pedaled the extent of
the problem, according to soldiers in Iraq. “The
colonel was schmoozed by the officers reporting to
him,” says NEWSWEEK’s source. Official Army
spokespeople did not return calls for comment.

This could develop into a problem for the Army. For
one, it could present the Army with a public relations
problem down the road, if not around the next bend.
Many of the soldiers serving in Iraq have begun
rotating home after 12 to 24-month tours of duty. It’s
unclear what kind of psychological fallout there’ll be
from a war that still divides the U.S. public.
“There’s very good likelihood of a lot more PTSD,”
than the military saw after the 1991 Gulf War, says
Dr. Brett Litz, associate director of the National
Center for PTSD. The reasons are apparent. The Iraq
occupation is an extended guerrilla war, without a
front or rear. Countless civilians have been killed
and maimed. “There’s a larger sense of horror from the
use of overwhelming force and seeing civilians
suffer,” Litz says. “That can leave an enduring mark
on men and women.” Add to that the mission’s large
number of citizen-soldiers in the Army Reserve and
National Guard, who are returning to curious
communities who can’t relate to their experiences.

Ultimately, the Army’s crew of mental health
professionals may be too small. It has about 110
psychiatrists, 130 social workers and 120
psychologists for its approximately 500,000
active-duty soldiers. “That’s pretty bare bones,” said
Col. Rene Robichaux, the former chief of the
Department of Social Work at Brook Army Medical Center
in San Antonio, Tex., who retired Jan. 1. And what
about the soldiers’ families back home in garrison?
“We don’t have enough psychiatry resources for family
members either,” Robichaux said. That could be a
problem for stressed-out husbands and wives who return
to the arms, and frayed nerves, of their loved ones
after a year away from home.


Last week Martha Brant questioned whether military
families—and soldiers— had changed their minds about
the Iraq war because WMD has yet to be found. The
majority of letters we received still supported the
war. A sampling:

Name: Patty Presley
Hometown: Red Bud
I don't agree with the story of Suarez speaking out
against the war and the President because of his son's
death. My son has only been in Iraq for about 3 weeks.
I asked him before he left if he believed in what he
was doing and if he stood behind the President. He
said yes I do, if we don't stop people like Saddam we
will have more terrorist acts in the United States. I
feel sorry for Mr. Suarez and I hope I never have to
experience what he has, but I must say that I believe
in my son and I will stand behind him. Everyone must
remember how we gained the freedom that we have and
the Soldiers that have died all over the world giving
us that freedom. Weapons of mass destruction were
probably there and moved to another country before we
even got there, or may even still be there, but just
not found yet. I am sure the people of Iraq that have
been tortured find our presence a blessing.

Name: Dolores Gorton
Hometown: Viola, AR 72583
I agree 500% with this article! I opposed the war in
Iraq; and it breaks my heart to hear almost daily of
our military men and women getting killed and wounded;
often with limbs blown off—for what: so Bush and his
cronies can get oil and become richer at the expense
of American lives and families! My son is going to
Iraq this summer and I pray daily for his safety and
the safety of all military personnel!!! As Americans,
we have to protest and fight this injustice of using
National Guards for combat! We have to continue to
protest and demonstrate against the War in Iraq
because public opinion is the major force that put an
end to the Vietnam War. The War in Iraq is another
Vietnam because America did not know the history, the
language, the culture, or the ethnicity of the people
in Iraq!!!

Name: Bob Hughes
Hometown: Grass Valley, CA
We mourn the loss of any American who has given the
ultimate sacrifice for our great nation but the cause
is just regardless of whether we have found WMDs. My
son is just finishing a year in Iraq with the 2-70 AR
and while he had close calls he is returning. I am
proud of him and his service but had he made the
ultimate sacrifice it too would have been for a just
cause. In times of grief it is easy to point fingers
or lay blame but the truth of the matter is if our
brave soldiers don't take care of business elsewhere
in the world the war will come to us here and it's
safe to assume that those who oppose war will cower in
the face of the enemy and desire to hand this country
over to those who hate who we are and what we have.
Regardless the rest of us will continue to stand up,
to go ourselves or send our sons and daughters to
protect their right to oppose the protection of our
nation and it's citizens from the tyrants and
terrorists who grow in numbers everyday.

Posted by richard at February 23, 2004 03:09 PM