America suffers an epidemic of suicides among traumatised army veterans
More American military veterans have been committing suicide than US soldiers have been dying in Iraq, it was claimed yesterday.
At least 6,256 US veterans took their lives in 2005, at an average of 17 a day, according to figures broadcast last night. Former servicemen are more than twice as likely than the rest of the population to commit suicide.
Such statistics compare to the total of 3,863 American military deaths in Iraq since the invasion in 2003 - an average of 2.4 a day, according to the website ICasualties.org.
The rate of suicides among veterans prompted claims that the US was suffering from a “mental health epidemic” – often linked to post-traumatic stress.
CBS News claimed that the figures represented the first attempt to conduct a nationwide count of veteran suicides. The tally was reached by collating suicide data from individual states for both veterans and the general population from 1995.
The suicide rate among Americans as a whole was 8.9 per 100,000, but the level among veterans was at least 18.7. That figure rose to a minimum of 22.9 among veterans aged 20 to 24 – almost four times the nonveteran average for people of the same age.
There are 25 million veterans in the United States, 1.6 million of whom served in Afghanistan and Iraq.
“Not everyone comes home from the war wounded, but the bottom line is nobody comes home unchanged,” said Paul Rieckhoff, a former Marine and founder of Iraq and Afghanistan Veterans for America.
CBS quoted the father of a 23-year-old soldier who shot himself in 2005 as suggesting that the military was covering up the scale of the problem. “Nobody wants to tally it up in the form of a government total,” Mike Bowman said. “They don’t want the true numbers of casualties to really be known.”
Mr Bowman’s son, Tim, was an army reservist who patrolled one of the most dangerous places in Baghdad, known as Airport Road. “His eyes when he came back were just dead. The light wasn’t there anymore,” said his mother, Kim Bowman. Eight months later, on Thanksgiving Day, Tim committed suicide.
A separate study published last week shows that US military veterans make up one in four homeless people in America, even though they represent just 11 per cent of the general adult population, and younger soldiers are already trickling into shelters and soup kitchens after completing tours in Iraq and Afghanistan.
While it took roughly a decade for the lives of Vietnam veterans to unravel to the point that they started showing up among the homeless, at least 1,500 ex-servicemen from the present wars have already been identified.
The National Alliance to End Homelessness, based the findings of its report on numbers from Veterans Affairs and the Census Bureau. Data from 2005 estimated that 194,254 homeless people on any given night were veterans.
Daniel Akaka, the chairman of the Senate Veterans’ Affairs Committee, said: “For too many veterans, returning home from battle does not bring an end to conflict. There is no question that action is needed.”
The plight of US veterans is a matter of acute sensitivity for the Bush Administration which has set great store by standing up for – and support from – US troops. This year General Kevin Kiley, the US Army’s Surgeon General, was among senior military officials dismissed for his role in the mistreatment of wounded veterans from Iraq and Afghanistan.
Newspaper revelations about conditions at the Walter Reed Army Medical Centre in Washington became a lightning rod for criticism of the war in general. The outpatient clinic was described as squalid and rat-infested; a maze of red tape left many outpatients – often with severe brain injuries – wandering the corridors without help.