September 2008 Editorial Winner

Protecting their minds
Soldiers are suffering psychologically, need help

 

By Jeff Mullin, Enid News & Eagle

"It is well that war is so terrible," renowned Confederate Gen. Robert E. Lee said in 1862 at the Battle of Fredericksburg, "otherwise we would grow too fond of it."

Former first lady Barbara Bush put it much more succinctly, "War is not nice."

Wars in both Iraq and Afghanistan are taking their toll, not only in terms of those killed and wounded in battle, but those who lose the battle with their troubled psyches, as well.

As of the end of August there were 62 confirmed suicides among active-duty soldiers and Guard and Reserve troops called to active duty, Army officials said. Another 31 deaths appear to be suicides, but still are being investigated.

That means this could be a record year for soldier suicides, surpassing the total of 115 last year. In addition, the rate of suicides per 100,000 could top that of the civilian population.

Brig. Gen. Rhonda Cornum, an assistant Army surgeon general, said "there are no simple problems and there are no simple solutions."

Army officials point to problems with personal relationships, legal and financial issues, work problems and the repeated and longer deployments to which today's soldiers are subjected as factors in the rising suicide rate.

This is a huge problem and one that must be addressed. To its credit, the Army is trying to do just that by increasing the number of staff psychiatrists and other mental health staff. The Army is building the number of chaplains and bolstering anti-suicide programs both at home and on the battlefield. A new interactive video on the subject is about to debut, as is a new program on resilience that will be added to the basic training curriculum.

We spend billions on weapons and armor for our young soldiers so they can protect themselves physically. We must redouble our efforts to protect them psychologically as well.