Suicide rate continues to rise at Fort Hood
November 4, 2010
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This year 104 soldiers have committed suicide, giving the military a higher suicide rate than civilian society, according to the Washington Post. In the last weekend of September, the largest military base in the United States faced an alarming number of suicides—Fort Hood.
Four soldiers committed suicide at Fort Hood, bringing the total number to 14, and six more are under investigation. All four of these soldiers had served terms in either Iraq or Afghanistan.
According to the New York Times, these recent suicides bring the total number to 14 at Fort Hood with six more deaths under investigation. Fort Hood continues to face a high number of suicides putting them under the national spotlight.
This year alone they’ve reached the highest total they’ve ever had, 14 in 2008, which was reported by the New York Times.
“Every one of these is tragic,” said Maj. Gen. William Grimsley, who commands Fort Hood. “It’s personally and professionally frustrating as a leader.”
However, the New York Times reported that Fort Hood officials have decided that no more preventative steps should be made to cut back on the suicides.
In the last several years Fort Hood has put multiple programs in place to cut back on the suicides at their base. In Oct. of 2009 Army General George Casey and Secretary of the Army John McHugh started the Army-wide Comprehensive Soldier Fitness Program. According to the Fort Hood Sentinel, this program builds strength in five crucial aspects of life: physical, emotional, spiritual, social, and family.
Also Fort Hood has a site on the base called Resiliency Campus, which was designed to help soldiers and their family members deal with the physical and emotional impact the war has had on their lives. The plan for this program is to stop the issues before they get to the point of suicide.
“We work to build resilience so soldiers do not get to that point,” Col. Bill Rabena, commandant at Fort Hood Resiliency Campus, said. “For us, it’s all preventive.”
But suicides are still on the rise.
In a study done by Congress from 2005 to 2009 they reported that the suicide rate in the Marines and Army doubled, and in these five years over 1000 soldiers have committed suicide. This rate is the equivalent to one solider killing himself every 36 hours.
Many identify Post Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD) as one of the key reasons soldiers continue to commit suicide.
“PTSD can occur from experiencing or witnessing a physically-threatening event in which they experienced fear or helplessness,” said the Assistant Professor of Psychology Eva Lawrence. “When someone has PTSD, they re-experience the traumatic event – which can include nightmares, flashbacks, and panic attacks. They also avoid things associated with the trauma, so they may cut themselves off from their normal activities, feel numb, etc. They also have some increased arousal including irritability, difficulty sleeping, feeling irritable, etc. To be diagnosed with PTSD, the symptoms must occur for more than one month.”
Many believe this serious disorder, which is found in many soldiers, is not being treated correctly.
Cynthia Thomas, who runs the Under the Hood Café, an anti-war activist group that provides referrals to soldiers to see mental health professionals, expressed her displeasure to the New York Times.
“You don’t get counseling, you get medication,” Thomas said. “These soldiers are breaking.”
M.D. Scott Mendelson of the Huffington Post also spoke out of his displeasure with the system the military uses to treat suicidal soldiers.
“New programs begun by the Department of Defense and the Veterans Administration are said to be designed to expand mental health care, and to make it more effective, palatable, and accessible to soldiers and veterans,” said Mendelson. “They don’t. As a psychiatrist employed by the VA who sees these broken soldiers on a daily basis, I find it infuriating and heartbreaking.”
“The Department of Defense and the Veterans Administration need to take steps now to hire a sufficient number of competent, well trained mental health professionals, not champions or cheerleaders, to treat the soldiers and veterans now suffering from military related illnesses,” said Mendelson. “These must include psychiatrists, psychologists, psychotherapists and psychiatric nurse practitioners. There are no shortcuts. As a psychiatrist who sees and treats our veterans of World War II, Korea, and Vietnam on a daily basis, I can guarantee you that this problem will not go away any time soon.”
According to the Washington Post, some soldiers fear that telling their officers about their disorder could result in losing their positions and the chance for promotions.
A recent victim of PTSD, Timothy Rinella, told his wife that he knew he should look into counseling but had said: “I want to get promoted, and they look at people with PTSD as weak.”
“They don’t trust us,” added retired Col. Charles Hoge, a former psychiatrist at Walter Reed. “They believe we speak with forked tongues.”
“I believe part of it is soldiers and leaders don’t know what to do,” Staff of the Army Gen. Peter Chiarelli said in the Fort Hood Sentinel. “It’s so important that we educate the force (about PTSD).”
Despite what many military officials have expressed, many soldiers still don’t believe in what the military preaches and they don’t think they will receive the help they need.
“There’s also a stigma about PTSD and other mental illnesses, which can prevent people from talking about it or seeking help,” said Lawrence. “Attempts to de-stigmatize PTSD would be very helpful.”
With a little less than three months left in 2010, it seems likely Fort Hood will surpass the number of suicides from 2008, and the concerns continue to grow.