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The Suicide Rush

More soldiers than ever are committing suicide, and the Army apparently has no ready explanation. The top brass are perplexed. One Army official said, ?This is terrifying . . .We do not know what is going on.?

I can tell you what?s going on. American troops are sick and tired of fighting two bogus wars that seem to have no end in sight. Twenty-four soldiers killed themselves in January 2009, eight more than died that month from combat in Iraq and Afghanistan.

Col. Kathy Platoni, chief clinical psychologist for the Army Reserve and the National Guard, tried to explain why so many soldiers are giving up on life: “There is more hopelessness and helplessness because everything is so dreary and cold” in the long winter months.

Well, yeah. Of course the winter months are gloomy, but if you had been in Iraq or Afghanistan for two or three deployments, you might be done in about now, too ? cold or no cold. Platoni does admit that multiple deployments, family separations, and financial woes contribute to the stress that might push a service member over the edge.

The Army says at least 128 soldiers took their lives in 2008, the highest number since they started keeping suicide statistics twenty-nine years ago. For January 2009, the Army suicide rate was six times what it was in the same month last year ? troubling, indeed. American soldiers are exhausted, and still they are asked to do more. They are tired of constantly being on edge and tired of patrolling the streets for nebulous insurgents. They are tired of being tired.

Back in late September 2007, Eli Wright , a medic who served in Iraq, said, “Almost all the soldiers I talk to are tired, upset, fed up.” That was about eighteen months ago, and nothing has changed. The wars rage on, and the troops continue to suffer from PTSD and other mental health issues that can lead to suicide.

The tragic story of Pfc. Timothy Ryan Alderman is detailed in a Salon.com series. Infantryman Alderman, having seen ferocious fighting in Iraq, came home to experience jumpiness, panic attacks, and nightmares, among other symptoms. Although he asked the Army for help, doctors determined that Alderman?s mental health issues were not due to his military service. Even an Army sergeant expressed disdain for Alderman?s request for help, according to a friend of the late soldier. The sergeant snapped, “I wish you would just go ahead and kill yourself. It would save us a lot of paperwork.”

Tragically, that?s just what Alderman might have done. The Army says Alderman killed himself with an overdose of prescription drugs and other medications, but some feel that he may have accidentally overdosed. His list of medications was staggering.

Salon.com: ?Doctors had Alderman on 0.5 mg of Klonopin for anxiety three times a day; 800 mg of Neurotin, an anti-seizure medication, three times a day; 100 mg of Ultram, a narcotic-like pain reliever, three times a day; 20 mg of Geodon for bipolar disorder at noon and then another 80 mg at night; 0.1 mg of Clonodine, a blood pressure medication also used for withdrawal symptoms, three times a day; 60 mg of Remeron, for depression, once a day; and 10 mg of Prozac twice a day.?

Often Alderman seemed to be out of it, slurring his words and appearing ?stoned.? As he wrote shortly before he died, “I am seeking help but I feel like I’m not being treated right. I mean mental help. I struggle every day with it.”

War and the Moral Code War is an event that should never be undertaken lightly, as it goes against the grain of a culture?s code of morality. If one is introduced to the classic example of a strong moral code, the Ten Commandments, he is taught that the act of killing is the antithesis of what it means to be a spiritual being. Treating your fellow humans with respect, ? l? the Golden Rule, is the moral code that has been taught and practiced in civil society for centuries ? except in the theatre of war.

War challenges all the old moral and cultural rules. Taught to view ?enemies? as sub-human animals, soldiers are encouraged to shoot first and ask questions later. The Golden Rule and the Ten Commandments fly out the window in wartime, and when the soldier gets home, the cognitive dissonance really begins.

Cognitive dissonance is a kind of inner tug of war between 1) what you believe to be true and 2) your thoughts or actions that conflict with the belief. For instance, you may believe that killing is wrong, yet you might have taken the lives of innocent civilians while on tour in Iraq.

The cognitive dissonance that arises due to that experience could be quite difficult to overcome without understanding where it originated. The horrors of war can literally shock the mind.

The term, ?Shell Shock,? was introduced during World War I to explain the psychological trauma men suffered during military service: ?Symptoms varied widely in intensity, ranging from moderate panic attacks – which sometimes caused men to flee the battlefield: a crime which was invariably regarded as rank cowardice and which resulted in a court martial for desertion – to effective mental and physical paralysis.?

Men were not designed to fight war. Their minds are simply not equipped to deal with the act of killing other human beings, even if their own government sanctions that killing. No matter how many war video games you play, no matter how much simulation training you get, you can not fully prepare for the dreadful reality of armed conflict ? to the death ? against others of your own kind.

So we end up with Timothy Ryan Alderman, popping pills because he needed assistance. He was a human being in pain, asking for help from other human beings, and all he got was a pile of pills and a burial service.

Generation after generation, the battlefield steals the best and brightest from us. Time and again, the service member?s deepest wounds are hidden from view, and often we can only see them when it?s too late.

KATHY SANBORN is an author, journalist, and recording artist with a new CD, Peaceful Sounds, now a top seller on CDBaby. Listen to clips of her songs, including “Forever War,” and buy the album now at http://cdbaby.com/cd/kathysanborn.

© 2009 KATHY SANBORN

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KATHY SANBORN is an author, journalist, and recording artist with a new CD, Peaceful Sounds, now a top seller on CDBaby. Listen to clips of her songs, including “Forever War,” and buy the album now at http://cdbaby.com/cd/kathysanborn.

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