Friday, May 19, 2006

Mentally Unfit, Forced to Fight

A fascinating investigative news story by the Hartford Courant, which was posted in the latest issue of Harvard's World Health News.  Here is an excerpt:

These practices, which have received little public scrutiny and in some cases violate the military's own policies, have helped to fuel an increase in the suicide rate among troops serving in Iraq, which reached an all-time high in 2005 when 22 soldiers killed themselves -- accounting for nearly one in five of all Army non-combat deaths.

The Courant's investigation found that at least 11 service members who committed suicide in Iraq in 2004 and 2005 were kept on duty despite exhibiting signs of significant psychological distress. In at least seven of the cases, superiors were aware of the problems, military investigative records and interviews with families indicate.

World Health News also posted a link to a story by ABC News, based on the Courant's investigation.

The Courant reports that the Army is satisfied with efforts it launched two years ago to improve mental health among troops, and that they expect some "variation" in suicide rates among troops. 

Hardly a comforting voice of support for our troops.  Those who do seek help likely do so with much stigma and belittling of their condition, problems even civilians face in coping with mental illness.  Yet our troops can ill afford the impact of mental illness in a place where uncertainty is palpable and the line between life and death is so thin...

In related news, HBO is set to launch a documentary called "Baghdad ER" which, according to Lieutenant-General Kevin Kiley (Army Surgeon General), shows, "the ravages and anguish of war." The military, initially supportive of the show, is now distancing itself from it -- one wonders if it is not doing the same with respect to the mental health of its soldiers...

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