Donna Carbone

Donna Carbone
South Florida, USA
April 21
Writers Bloc
Married for thirty six years and the mother of the two grown children, I began writing at the age of ten. My first success was winning a poetry contest in grammar school. From that moment forward, I realized that the written word was as vital to my survival as food and air. I am presently working on two books, one of which I hope to finish before I die. A number of my poems have graced A Long Story Short, and I have been published in the Lucidity Journal. Each day inspires me...what I see, hear and experience.... if it stays in my mind, I write about it. __________________________________________ "To believe in something not yet proved and to underwrite it with our lives: It is the only way we can leave the future open." (Lillian Smith)


Editor’s Pick
JULY 26, 2010 11:38AM

The Military, Mental Health Services and Suicide Statistics

Rate: 13 Flag


web statistics

The Sunday, July 25th, edition of The Palm Beach Post carried a reprint of an article originally published by the McClatchey Company, the third largest newspaper syndicate in the United States. I had never heard of them before, but the story rang a bell, forcing me to go back through a file I keep of possible documentary ideas. Sure enough, starting in 2008, I had begun saving articles dealing with the increasing number of suicides among our military men and women. The statistics are frightening.

Let me start with the last report and work my way backwards. The July 25th article was headlined, "Suicides on rise for National Guard, Reserve members." The very first paragraph stated that the number of reservist suicides this year has spiked and the military cannot explain why. We are only six months into 2010 and already 65 service members have taken their own lives. The total for the first six months of 2009 was 42 deaths. 

Tim Embree, a former Marine with two tours of duty in Iraq, is a legislative associate for the advocacy group, Iraq and Afghanistan Veterans of America. He is quoted in Sunday's article as saying, "Suicides among military personnel and veterans are at an epidemic rate, and it's getting worse." Yes, it is and, here, I must go back to those old articles I've been saving.

In June 2008, an  Associated Press article entitled, "Gender sways VA care, study finds," reported that the Veterans Administration, despite making long strides, was still lagging when it came to providing healthcare for women veterans. When the report was written, 14% of the U.S. military were women and, of the 1.7 million troops deployed to Iraq and Afghanistan, 11% (more than 190,000) were female. Now keep in mind that 5% of soldiers seeking medical care in 2008 were women and that number was expected to double by 2010. 

To be fair, the bulk of the AP article dealt with medical not mental health care. However, one short sentence advised that women veterans had complained of the lack of group counseling sessions that focused on their specific needs. Group counseling -- although not specified what topics would be discussed, is it too far reaching to think suicide might have been one of them?

A followup Op/Ed piece in the PB Post on June 22, 2008, addressed a study released by the Rand Corporation, a not for profit institution that "helps improve policy and decision making through research and analysis."  The study found that more than 620,000 veterans who had served in the Middle East would need long term care for mental illnesses or traumatic brain injuries. 

Let me digress here for a minute. The very popular Lifetime Television series, "Army Wives," is dedicating a number of episodes this season to traumatic brain injury. The story line is compelling in that it focuses not only on how brain trauma affects someone physically and mentally but also emotionally. It would behoove the writers to pound their fingers on the keyboard to produce a few episodes about the relationship of TBIs to suicide. They have not shied away from the touchy subject in the past and they would do well to rush in and embrace it now.

Marie Cocco, the prize winning syndicated columnist of political and cultural issues, published an Op/Ed on July 8, 2008 entitled, "Veterans face homecoming maze." She wrote about Sgt. George Ball, who served two tours in Iraq and now suffers from post traumatic stress disorder (PTSD). Sgt. Ball told Ms. Cocco, "I couldn't remember things -- little things like where I put my keys and things like that." He did not want to go back to Iraq because he, ".....was afraid I would forget something important and get somebody killed." Sgt. Ball applied to be discharged and A YEAR LATER, he finally received an 80% disability rating. In the months prior to qualifying as disabled, George Ball lost one job after another because "Things would drop and they would scare me pretty bad. I'd keep forgetting stuff. I figured I could live with it if I just wrote stuff down." Writing things down could not block the noises that drove George Ball to duck and run for cover.

In a 2008 interview with Ms. Cocco, Rep. Bob Filner of California, Chairman of House Veterans Affairs Committee, stated, "We've got to clean this up. We know exactly what happens when we do it wrong. We treated the Vietnam vets very badly...the same thing is happening now. There are Iraq veterans already homeless, there are suicide rates. It's life and death to take it seriously." No, Rep. Filner, what it turned out to be was certain death not to take it seriously.

On July 28, 2008, the Associated Press again published an article about the military. This one's title was "22,000 call veterans suicide hot line."  According to that piece, more than 22,000 veterans sought help from a special suicide hot line and through that hot line, 1221 suicides were averted. Also cited was the Rand Corp., which found that "one in five soldiers returning from the Middle East display symptoms of PTSD, which puts them at a higher risk for suicide." The AP writer quoted Portland State University researchers who found that male veterans are twice as likely to commit suicide than non-veterans.

Statistics taken from that same Associated Press release show that the veterans suicide hotline was receiving 250 calls a day.  At that time, the Veterans' Administration estimated that 6,500 veterans commit suicide yearly. In December 2007, Ira Katz, the mental health director of the VA, wrote an email in which he stated that of the 18 veterans who commit suicide each day, four or five of them are under VA care, and 12,000 veterans under VA care are attempting suicide each year."

So, what improvements have been made since all these facts were reported in 2008? None, it seems. Returning to Sunday's article from the McClatchy Newspapers,  despite its best efforts to step up prevention through counseling and mental health awareness programs, the Army reported suicides for June 2010 alone at 32 deaths, a figure which includes 11 Guard and Reserve members. Seven of those deaths took place while the soldiers were deployed in either Iraq or Afghanistan. That means 25 soldiers who had either returned to the States or had never been deployed took their own lives. Why?

No one knows that answer, but someone needs to find it soon. 


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It's a total travesty.
If we had a draft, we wouldn't have all these marginal mentally competent volunteers skewing suicide statistics.
Every single combat casualty is meticulously counted by the media if it happened in international theaters where we are an active military presence. Are suicides of our veterans any less worthy of that kind of attention? Aren't they casualties as well? Maybe the news media should keep a count of military suicides and treat them very much as casualties too.
Thanks for this piece.

I'm confused. How are the statistics skewed? Do you feel there are more or less deaths than reported?


I like the idea of the media reporting suicides the way they do casualties of war. These soldiers ARE casualties of war -- no matter how they meet their end. What bothers me the most is that the media and the military have known how big the problem is for years, and despite claims that the VA has been progressive in its efforts to help our veterans, the number of deaths keeps growing.
Donna, I was attempting write a very sardonic comment about the irony of our volunteer army who come from the lower rungs of our economic ladder, and our political elite whose children make no sacrifice by military service.

The cynic in me would believe that no one in Congress gives a tinker's dam about the plight of our soldiers; and they would rationalize the suicides in the manner of my comment. Sorry for the lack of clarity. I should try to be clear not clever.

Understood and agreed -- not about the clever part , oh, do be clever, but about our Congress. Maybe they just think it's cheaper to let them die than to provide the mental health resources they need.
Donna - this is a timely story. There've been articles in the NY Times about both traumatic brain injuries, physical injuries, and suicide increases of returning veterans. The stories that get the most play are the "feel-good" ones about intrepid and courageous individuals who persevere. What sickens me is that we the people ask for our news this way; we don't want to hear about the awful parts of fighting a long-term way, particularly how spectacularly unprepared we are for our returning vets (I don't always like the way Israel approaches its enemies but it certainly knows how to take care of its soldiers.)

And here's where OE's observation fits in: a draft is what we as a country should have if we truly believe in our policies, in our wars and in the people who are fighting them. Thus we would share the sacrifice. If this had happened after 9/11, you bet people would figure out how to make their concerns heard (if they have them) or take a second and third look at the meaning of defending ourselves, or preemptive strikes or any number of policy decisions. The standards for serving would be tighter, and the decisions for fighting far more cautious. Shame on Congress for being unwilling to put our foreign policy to this most basic of tests.

And thanks to you for reminding us of the cost of war.
We need mental health reform so badly it makes me sick. It's also very hard to watch my son's obsession with all things american and military. Glorified but not taken care of - good luck being all you can be. Important read, Donna. Thank you.
The other alternative is to offer no benefit to volunteering. No GI bill, no tuition reimbursement. Give no economic hope to the the underclass and we'll be forced into conscription to raise a standing army. Then the public will demand and get care for our vets.

I can't help but think of my nephew, who has wanted nothing more than to be a marine since he was three years old. This past March, having just turned 18, and despite having the brains and the grades for college, he enlisted. He scored so high on the placement tests that his recruiting officer was shocked. My nephew really wanted to go into the infantry, the the recruiter told him that grades like his were rare and they placed him in a more specialized training program. He still wants to fight. I don't understand it but I respect his dedication to his country and his devotion to the guys in his unit.
This is appalling, veterans should be recieving the finest of care after the sacrifice they make.
the way our government treats vets makes me sick. thanks for this info. i wish this kind of exposure to reality made more people sit up and take notice. if the government won't take care of business of their own accord, we need to make them.
Always an issue that should be of supreme importance, and always falls to people like Nadia McCaffrey to get something done:
Donna~ I neglected to credit you for what you've compiled and presented here. Congrats on the EP--where this should be!
This is a tragedy of all soldiers who returned from war. After second world war those solders came back to home they could not adjusted with family ,with friends they were so dispirited some suicide,some disappeared, some depressed and send in mental hospital.Those married before went to war they somehow adjusted themselves.They found themselves lonely that is a real cause of their tragedy.
God...I'm ashamed for us when I think about these statistics...and what is happening to the men and women who truly put it all on the line. I don't care if we agree or disagree with the lines they're ON...they deserve better. Bonnie's right. I live in a town with a huge base, though, so we tend to be a little more sensitive to these issues. I also live in a state where getting through to the powers that be can be extremely difficult. I do still try. I had kids in my former middle and high schools who were victims of our indifference. I couldn't let that ride...
It is a total travesty. I've experienced this, I've written about it in the past and I received much email from those on the front lines who weren't getting the help they needed, and who were hesitant to admit they were suicidal because of what it would do to their careers. Not all of us who enlisted were/are marginal -- we're well enough to get in, so we're good enough to send to war, so shouldn't we also get the best care?
Some damned disgrace R for exposing it!
A very crucial post Donna. Suicide cases among the army men are indeed a serious concern. In the process of constructing human machines, they forget to give the human consideration sometime.
Donna, thank you for bringing this to people's attention. As an Army wife, I've heard way more stories than I'd ever thought I would about PTSD, TBI and other related issues. Sadly enough, they're almost becoming commonplace. The Army has recently made some strides in trying to break down the stereotypes associated with these problems, and I can only hope that there's more improvement to come. Rated, with thanks.
nowadays, american soldiers fight for a wage, in wars whose purpose is not clear, but certainly has nothing to do with defending the nation. they are therefore as expendable as any corporation entry-level hireling.

of course, there is an added level of verbal respect, pure hypocrisy, to prevent gunfire being directed at the capitol, where it might do some good.