The Buzz

U.S. Military Suicides Exceed Combat Deaths

The AP reports that U.S. military suicides have surged to the highest level ever recorded:

Pentagon figures obtained Monday by The Associated Press show that the 349 suicides among active-duty troops last year were up from 301 the year before and exceeded the Pentagon’s own internal projection of 325. . . . Last year’s total is the highest since the Pentagon began closely tracking suicides in 2001. It exceeds the 295 Americans who died in Afghanistan last year, by the AP’s count.

Perhaps it is unsurprising that the military is dealing with some tough issues these days. While not explicitly linked, the concurrent modern-day epidemics of suicide and rape in the armed forces are rather unnerving. Particularly disturbing is the seemingly rampant abuse of the "adjustment disorder" diagnosis. In a reported piece titled "The Enemy Within" earlier this year, National Journal's James Kitfield found that sexual-assault victims, often viewed within the forces as "problematic" to their units, were labeled as having so-called adjustment disorders and washed out of the military. Similarly, the AP report on one particular suicide seems to set off warning bells as the same adjustment-disorder language crops up again:

One such case was Army Spc. Christopher Nguyen, 29, who killed himself last August at an off-post residence he shared with another member of the 82nd Airborne Division at Fort Bragg, N.C., according to his sister, Shawna Nguyen.

“He was practically begging for help and nothing was done,” she said in an interview.

She said he had been diagnosed with an “adjustment disorder” — a problem of coping with the uncertainties of returning home after three deployments in war zones. She believes the Army failed her brother by not doing more to ensure that he received the help he needed before he became suicidal.

Kitfield's piece earlier this year followed Petty Officer 3rd Class Jenny McClendon:

McClendon says she was assaulted again by an investigator while based in Norfolk, Va. This time, when she reported the attack, her lieutenant called her a “whore” and sent her to a Navy therapist, who suggested that she was a bad fit for the Navy. “Essentially, I was diagnosed with a personality disorder for failing to adjust adequately to being raped,” McClendon says, even though “borderline psychotics. . .could never make it through boot camp.”

It seems, if anything, that the military is not adequately adjusting to the reality of these sad and tragic problems. So far, no additional measures have been taken to combat the unprecedented number of military suicides, and there is still no civilian oversight agency for the reporting of violent crimes in the forces.