The B.S. Behind All the Suicide Talk

080724-0889 Rifle squad, attention ++ b&w comp6

In the last few years, haven’t we all been about beat to death by the mainstream media that have been giddy to headline the 100% increase in military suicides from 2001 to 2009 and just as quick to point their fingers at the wars in Afghanistan and Iraq as the sole cause?According to the media echo, the stresses of the war zones were causing combat vets to off themselves in record numbers. (One could almost hear the smug insinuation behind the enthusiastic reporting: It’s Bush’s fault.)

So, now that research has been released showing the opposite—that combat is but a small factor—where are the headlined articles? I stumbled upon the story in an op-ed published without fanfare in last Friday’s USA Today. In the op-ed, James Robbins reveals the findings of a study published in JAMA Psychiatry (see op-ed here), notably highlighting these startling facts:

  • Of the 5,041 military suicides between Oct 2001 and Dec 2009, 23% were service members who had deployed, and 77% were those who had not.
  • Whether the individuals had deployed or not, the majority of the suicides had been from individuals who had separated from the service, and;
  • In particular, suicide was more common among those with less than four years of service or who did not receive an honorable discharge, as;
  • Those who left with an honorable discharge had half the suicide rate as those whose discharge was not honorable, and;
  • The suicide rate of those with less than one year of service was over four times that of those who left the service with 20 or more years.

That first stat alone—the 23% deployed verses the 77% non-deployed—should throw cold water over journalists blaming the wars for the suicides. The other stats clearly show that suicide is less a result of combat than of character, or lack of character. And if that’s too harshly judgmental, look to the DOD’s Suicide Event Report (2013) that found, as Robbins points out, “failed relationships (mostly intimate in nature) and administrative/legal issues were the most common psychosocial stressors in military suicide cases.”

Failed relationships, as in bum marriages, spouses cheating on spouses, financial collapse, drug and alcohol abuse, and the like. Administrative/legal issues, as in divorces and bankruptcy and criminal conduct.

But Robbins wasn’t through, going one better, citing the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention:

  • From 2001 to 2009, suicide rates for Americans ages 25-64 increased, and;
  • For young men ages 25-34 in the general population, the suicide rate was higher than in the military overall.

Robbins’ conclusion: “These numbers point to the counter-intuitive conclusion that so far as death by suicide is concerned, men are safer in uniform than out of it, even if they are sent to war.” (emphasis added)

Bamm! Safer in uniform than out.

If you missed Robbins’ USA Today op-ed, have you read about the study anywhere else before being introduced to it here? And I don’t expect you to. Just the opposite, I’m betting that a dozen mainstream journalists are right now separately at work trying to drill holes all through that JAMA study.

And if they can’t discredit it, they’ll ignore it. Because it throws their whole world upside-down. Because, since they can’t prevent those 5,041 suicides, they’ll take every opportunity to use them to condemn Bush’s failed wars. To condemn, actually, the entire notion of America at war and the American military culture in general.

Regardless, that of those 5,041 only 23% deployed to the wars. And 77% did not.

Paul Avallone spent three-plus years in Afghanistan as a Green Beret then an embedded civilian journalist. His epic novel of the Afghan War, Tattoo Zoo 


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