I've been deeply disturbed by two trends concerning our military and its soldiers over the past decade. Neither has much to do with my tendency towards isolationism or deep distrust of the military-industrial complex that continually bankrupts our country. Rather, these trends disturb me on a deeper, more personal level.
The first was and is the quiet attempts to cut compensation during a time of war and the continued disrespect it shows to our soldiers dutifully fulfilling their mission.
The second is the epidemic of suicides in our military, often attached to PTSD from dutifully fulfilling their mission on our behalf but not receiving proper mental health treatment.
But could these two trends be intertwined? Follow below the fold to find out what got me wondering and then join me in untying the not.
I was browsing the excellent diary by A Progressive Military Wife earlier about the misinformed Sergeant Major of the Marine Corp Michael Barrett. Give her diary a read for a touching and telling argument that destroys Mr. Barrett's suggestion that military families should tighten their budgets so that the Marines can remain a "warfighting organization" and not an "an entitlements-based and health care provider". Seriously.
But we're used to that kind of ignorance, even from otherwise respected military and political minds. How many different excuses have we heard for cutting compensation - whether one is managing a military or business matters little. In order for the good of the overall mission, in this case "warfighting", the folks at the bottom must sacrifice. And sacrifice they do, often more than they ever should have to in the first place.
This graphic in her diary caught my eye:
It turns out The Guardian put out an entire set of graphs last year to further clarify the growing issue of suicide in the US military. The two that caught my eye are the two that appear to suggest that soldiers who are poorest and least educated are the most likely to take their own lives. The graphs won't embed and there are more worth checking out at the link, but here's the data:
Suicides Per 100K Soldiers by Education (In 2012)
GED Graduates: 42
High School: 18
Suicides Per 100K Soldiers by Rank (In 2012)
So, let me get this straight. There is an epidemic of suicide in the US military (although it may have slowed this year) and those most at risk are the lowest ranking, least educated soldiers. And after over a decade of perpetual war, Republicans and others, including the genius above, have suggested that cutting both benefits and pay for THESE soldiers is the way to balance a bloated Pentagon budget.
Folks, I'm not an expert in this field. I know that war and the associated psychological impacts alone are enough to push suicide rates in the armed forces higher than the general population. But I also know it certainly can't be helping if soldiers dealing with issues like that are also constantly wondering how they'll pay that next co-pay or if they need to go apply for food stamps to feed their family.
I'd love to hear input, both personal and from those in the know on this topic. Does adding more financial stress on top of the stress already associated with war make suicide even more likely? What psychological impact does it have, both on our soldiers (deployed or home) and their families?
This is an issue that should cut across nearly all political lines, real and imagined. Even if we don't end the war(s), cut the bloated budget, or bring our boys back, we have a responsibility to ensure their benefits aren't cut at home while they're out sacrificing abroad. We should really be expanding benefits, for better mental health systems generally and low-level military families specifically, to fight this epidemic that takes those we've invested millions in away from their friends, families and communities.