• Unimaginable stress, irrepressible memories, psychoactive prescription drugs make lethal combination
By Pat Shannan
With what must be one of the strangest statistics in the history of wartime, the Pentagon has released the fact that more soldiers are dying overseas by committing suicide than from combat wounds —about one a day. July 2012 was the worst on record, a month that saw 38 soldiers take their own lives and with 349 recorded for the year. These figures have doubled in the past decade.
More alarming yet is the report that America’s returning vets are committing suicide at the unprecedented rate of more than 20 each day—“one every 65 minutes,” reported Daily News of New York City—but there is no official answer as to why this happening.
Is it the post-traumatic stress from repeated tours in war zones or Big Pharma’s drugs that are being used to treat it?
Using figures from the National Violent Death Reporting System, Portland State University noted that male veterans kill themselves twice as often as their civilian counterparts and that female veterans are three times more likely to commit suicide than civilian women.
Figures gleaned from the two wars showed while 6,460 died in combat in Iraq and Afghanistan in the past 11 years, those United States soldiers who died by their own hand is estimated to be greater than that. Approximately 2.3M Americans have served in Iraq and Afghanistan, and 800,000 of those service members have been deployed multiple times.
Writer Anthony Swofford, who sounded this alarm last year said, “I was in danger of becoming such a statistic,” after serving four years in the Marines and seeing combat action in Kuwait during the Gulf War.
“I know the suicidal temptation that can accompany the isolation and loneliness veterans experience after the high of combat and the brotherhood of arms fades in the rearview mirror,” he said. “It took nearly two decades to find my way free of the morass.”
Even the doctors trained to psychologically soothe the mental stress of the combat-worn are not immune to the mental impact of war. Captain Peter Linnerooth was one of those Army psychologists who counseled hundreds of soldiers for the shock and grief of seeing their friends blown apart, for insomnia and the nightmares of hearing the screams from the horribly burned Iraqi children and, of course, for suicidal tendencies.
Linnerooth was so good at what he did his Army comrades dubbed him “The Wizard.” For more than a year during some of the bloodiest times in Iraq, he met with soldiers 60 to 70 hours a week. Sometimes he’d hop on helicopters or join convoys but usually he counseled in his tiny tent “office” at Camp Liberty in Baghdad.
Then, after six years in the Army and a solid 15 months of enduring that grueling regimen, Linnerooth came home to teach at Mankato State in Minnesota but could not escape his own demons. Soon, his depression took a disastrous turn, and he nearly died from an overdose of pills. A year later, he left a note before putting a bullet in his own head and was dead at 42.
Pat Shannan is an AFP contributing editor and the author of several best-selling videos and books.