27 October 2010

Jim Turpin : Military Suicides, PTSD at All-Time High

Under the Hood Café near Ft. Hood in Killeen Texas is a place where active duty GIs and veterans of Iraq and Afghanistan can discuss the debilitating effects of war. Photo from Under the Hood / Flickr.

Texas' Fort Hood sets the pace:
PTSD and suicides in the military
are at an all-time high

By Jim Turpin / The Rag Blog / October 27, 2010

KILLEEN, Texas -- Even with the spin from the current administration that the “war is over” in Iraq, it is well known that 50,000 combat-ready troops remain in the country. Add to that a recent deployment of 2,000 troops from the 3rd Armored Cavalry Regiment from Fort Hood in Texas. At present almost 100,000 troops remain in Afghanistan.

With the total number of U.S. military personnel cycling through both Afghanistan and Iraq at almost 1.8 million, and with the RAND corporation estimating that 18% have PTSD (which is deemed low by some experts), this would put the returning numbers with PTSD at 324,000.

A recent article in The New York Times confirms what the organizers of the Killeen-based GI coffeehouse Under the Hood Café have been battling at Fort Hood for the last year and a half: suicides are at the highest point since 2008, with 14 confirmed suicides since the beginning of 2010. In one recent weekend, there were three suicides and one murder-suicide at Fort Hood.

With the population at Fort Hood ranging from 46,000 to 50,000 soldiers at any given time, the rate of suicide is four times the national average, based on Center for Disease Control and Prevention estimates of 11.5 suicides per 100,000 people.

The repeated deployment of military personnel who suffer from both physical and psychological wounds has led to these all-time high suicide rates. A recent article in the American Journal of Public Health studied 2,500 New Jersey National Guardsmen and determined “deployed soldiers were more than three times as likely as soldiers with no previous deployments to screen positive for post traumatic stress disorder.”

Despite these staggering statistics, the Fort Hood command continues to find ways to deny soldiers their right to receive necessary mental health services. Several soldiers have come forward recently with reports of harassment, undue punishment, and interference when seeking these necessary services.

A number of examples include:
  • The imprisonment of SPC. Eric Jasinski in March 2010. Jasinski, who was suffering from PTSD, refused redeployment to Iraq based on this condition. It was feared that Jasinski's confinement could interfere with his ability to receive his prescribed medications. Eric's attorney James Branum stated, "He was seeing a psychiatrist for his condition and prescribed Zoloft for depression and Trazadone to get to sleep, and they handed him his gun and told him to go back to Iraq."

  • The deployment of 50 soldiers from Ft. Hood with physical (knee, back, and shoulder issues due to bomb blasts) and psychological (PTSD/TBI) issues in June 2010 to the National Training Center at Ft. Irwin, California. Combat training for those soldiers with verified PTSD and other anxiety disorders runs counterintuitive to generally accepted psychiatric practices.

  • Recent reports from soldiers at Ft. Hood suffering from PTSD and substance abuse who are being given extra work loads or are being kept from dealing with additional personal crises at home. Issues they are confronted with include being given medication only (instead of counseling) or being ignored by the chain of command when they request assistance.
Veteran deaths also surge after discharge from the military and are often the result of vehicle accidents, motorcycle crashes, drug overdoses, or other causes. An article this month in The New York Times discusses the huge number of veteran deaths attributed to destructive, risky, and lethal behaviors:

“The data show that veterans of Iraq and Afghanistan were two and a half times as likely to commit suicide as Californians of the same age with no military service. They were twice as likely to die in a vehicle accident and five and a half times as likely to die in a motorcycle accident. These numbers are truly alarming and should wake up the whole country,” said United States Representative Bob Filner, Democrat of San Diego, who is the chairman of the House Veterans’ Affairs Committee.

“They show a failure of our policy.”

The Under the Hood Café and Outreach Center, the GI coffeehouse located near Ft. Hood, Texas, the largest military base in the U.S., offers GIs a free speech zone. It provides a non-military environment that allows active duty GIs and veterans of Iraq and Afghanistan to discuss the debilitating effects of war. Under the Hood offers free referrals for medical and psychological services and legal assistance for those soldiers who are resisting redeployment to war zones.

To benefit its ongoing efforts in support of GIs, veterans, and military families,
Under the Hood is having a “Hoodstock Flashback” concert (see graphic below) on Sunday, November 14, from 6-11 p.m. at Jovita’s in Austin. Admission is $10 at the door and includes such artists as Barbara K, Karen Abrahams, Will T. Massey, and Richard Bowden.

[Jim Turpin is a native Austinite and member of CodePink Austin. He also volunteers for the GI coffeehouse Under the Hood Café at Ft. Hood in Killeen, Texas.]

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