The Official Voice of Vietnam Veterans of America, Inc. ®
An organization chartered by the U.S. Congress

May/June 2004

Suicide And PTSD Among Troops In Iraq


The Pentagon finally has detailed the psychological toll of combat in Iraq. It came in the form of a U.S. Army Mental Health Advisory Team survey released in late March after a delay of three months. According to the report, the suicide rate among American soldiers in Iraq is much higher than it is for the Army as a whole. It is, in fact, 35 percent higher than for soldiers stationed elsewhere, according to a March 30 article in Newsweek.

The Pentagon claims that the Army as a whole had a suicide rate of 12.8 per 100,000 last year, but that the rate among soldiers in Iraq was 15.6-17.3 per 100,000. While there have been 24 confirmed soldier suicides in Iraq since the start of the war, the circumstances of several other deaths still are under investigation. That is why the range of percentages is used. Despite this high suicide rate and a report from the commander of the Army's Landstuhl Germany Medical Center that 10 percent of casualties arriving from Iraq were evacuated with mental health problems, Army mental health experts claim there is "no crisis."

The Army, however, has established a toll-free suicide hotline (800-464-8107 for stateside soldiers and 800-464-81077 for overseas soldiers). It also offers Applied Suicide Intervention Skills Training, a suicide-awareness training plan, at several bases. This program focuses on four areas: the encouragement of help-seeking behavior, the development of life-coping skills, raised vigilance on suicide awareness, and the integration and synchronization of unit and community programs. The Army also has distributed wallet- and dog-tag size suicide awareness cards and desk cubes at Fort Lewis, Washington.

The Army planned to handle psychological injuries in Iraq through the use of roving Combat Stress Control teams. But there weren't enough teams in the field with every unit; the teams often didn't have proper equipment such as radios. Most importantly, there was no senior mental health leader in Iraq, a recommendation after the first Gulf War. On the other hand, the Marine Corps established a combat stress program, Operational Stress Control and Readiness (OSCAR), in which teams are integral to the units back in garrison.

The fact of the matter is that the stress is going to get worse for soldiers and their families as units are held over in Iraq andas was the case in Vietnamand the frequency of terrorist and guerilla attacks increases.

In other news, although the program schedule has not been finalized as of this writing, the PTSD/Substance Abuse Committee has organized a seminar for the Leadership Conference in Nashville. It features Dr. Joe Boscarino, one of the nation's leading PTSD researchers. Boscarino's presentation will focus on the relationship of PTSD and other diseases such as diabetes, hepatitis, and cardiovascular disease. Plan to attend this very informative seminar. See you in Nashville.


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