News Details

EDITORIAL: Suicide problem hits home in reports

Source: Clarksville Leaf Chronicle
Published: Wednesday 17 July, 2013

Soldiers come home from war with PTSD, PTSD leads to suicide, and it’s the Army’s fault. We know that story, right? Simple problem, simple cause, simple solutions (or at least solutions that don’t require work on our part).

Too bad the story’s not true.

When The Leaf-Chronicle and our news partner WSMV-TV Channel 4 in Nashville set out to review 17 Fort Campbell suicide death investigations from 2011 and 2012, we went in expecting to find a silver bullet. We thought we’d see what the Army missed or didn’t want to reveal – some overriding secret cause for so many soldiers taking their lives.

What we found was far more complicated.

Of the apparent causes or contributing factors in those 17 reports:

• Nine cited problems with family or relatives.

• Seven cited either “toxic” or poor unit leadership.

• Seven cited disciplinary charges or criminal investigations (two for child pornography).

• Six cited drug or alcohol abuse.

• Four cited combat deployments.

• Two cited prescription medication abuse.

• Two cited a recent personal loss.

You’ll notice that doesn’t add up to 17. That’s because in most reports, these causes or contributing factors overlap.

What we have here is not a single cause for military suicide. Instead, we have clusters of causes.

As for combat-related PTSD, three of those 17 soldiers had never even been deployed. Military-wide, the Department of Defense found that 85 percent of military suicides never experienced direct combat. Eighty-five percent.

None of this is to say there hasn’t been a suicide problem at Fort Campbell, where spring 2012 saw two murders and seven suicides in a 31-day period. That prompted Fort Campbell to take aggressive steps by setting up Embedded Behavioral Health Teams in each brigade.

Perhaps the problem with military suicide rests in part with the story in our heads.

The Army is made up of mostly young men, and for that demographic, the suicide rate in the Army is only slightly higher than that in the civilian population. In some areas of rural Tennessee, the rate is much higher.

Is it fair to expect the Army to maintain a lower suicide rate because they have the workplace infrastructure to do so?

Maybe it is.

But to truly address this problem, it’s not helpful to drop it on the concrete in front of Gate 4 and walk away.

Suicide is a personal issue. It’s a break from everything that makes sense about a person’s life and values and community. Programs and policy can only go so far in helping the soldier who lives next door, who sits in the next pew at church, who hangs out at your favorite bar.

Sometimes the solution is as simple as a caring word, a handshake or hug, or a conversation about the problems we all face – problems that may have nothing at all to do with military service.