No Suicides Allowed

14 May

“Thousands of soldiers, their bald eagle shoulder patches lined up row upon row across the grassy field, stood at rigid attention to hear a stern message from their commander.

“Brig[adier] Gen[eral] Stephen Townsend addressed the 101st Airborne Division with military brusqueness: Suicides at the post had spiked after soldiers started returning home from war, and this was unacceptable.

” ‘It’s bad for soldiers, it’s bad for families, bad for your units, bad for this division and our Army and our country and it’s [sic] got to stop now,’ he insisted. ‘Suicides on Fort Campbell [Kentucky] have to stop now.’ “

I quote an article written on April 24, 2010 by Kristen M. Hall of the Associated Press. She goes on to tell the story of twenty-one-year-old Adam Kuligowski upon his return from Afghanistan. Adam loved the Army and his job, but he became increasingly depressed and angry. Finally,

“Adam wrote a note telling his dad, [Mike], ‘Sorry to be a disappointment.’ Then he shot himself inside a bathroom stall with his rifle.

“When the Army closed their investigation into the soldier’s suicide, his father said an investigator told him that Adam’s problem was that he was unable to conform to a military lifestyle. Mike Kuligowski did receive a personal note from the general who was commanding the division at the time: ‘We don’t know why this happened,’ he wrote.

“Kuligowski was not appeased. ‘It reminds me that officers know absolutely nothing about the plights of the soldiers who are under their command,’ he said. ‘What kind of leadership is that?’ “

Off the top of my head and in one word, I would say typical.

The plight of these soldiers was called “shell shock” in WWI. In WWII and Korea, it was called “battle fatigue.” Since Vietnam, the psychiatric diagnosis is Post Traumatic Stress Disorder, or PTSD. But disregarding the labels, the symptoms are the same and have been around for a long, long time—perhaps from the beginning of war itself.  For military leaders and investigators to scratch their heads over the increase in suicides is ludicrous, and General Townsend’s proclamation “to stop now” is way beyond asinine.

But according to Hall’s article, Fort Campbell is responding to the crisis.

“The number of patients being treated at the behavioral health clinic has increased by 60 percent,from 25,400 in 2008 to nearly 40,000 in 2009. To handle the expanded need, they’ve also increased the number of counselors in that clinic to 60 last year, compared to 36 in 2008. In all, Fort Campbell has about 100 counselors, some of whom work in areas like social work, family advocacy, substance abuse and children’s behavioral health.”

If all 100 counselors worked directly with the patients, that would equal a caseload of 400 men and women each. Since some of the counselors work in other areas, that makes the caseload even higher. It cannot be done, especially if proper charting (case write-ups) is required and if meetings are frequent (the military bureaucrats live for meetings to justify their existence).

We train our soldiers to defend our country from a hostile invasion. We train them in all types of weaponry, to kill to protect the civilian populace. And then we send them to fourth-world countries like Iraq and Afghanistan that don’t want them there in the first place, and our soldiers kill to protect themselves from an enemy they cannot distinguish from a non-enemy. Amid the chaos they see atrocities no human should ever have to witness, including the bombing of innocent children and infants.

Eventually the soldiers come home and are discharged from service. Most of them adjust to their old lives again, but many don’t—the ones who need help.

As someone whom I can’t remember said, “We make them into killing machines, but unfortunately there is no ‘off’ switch.”

Posted from Chandler, Arizona May 14, 2010

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4 Responses to “No Suicides Allowed”

  1. Scott May 14, 2010 at 5:15 am #

    Thank you for this post. In SA, trauma is commonplace. Look at the suicide rate amongst cops. Also, in that state, it is impossible to see a way through to ‘normal’ life- it seems like the only option. We need a coinselling army for our civilians…

    • Charlie May 14, 2010 at 2:22 pm #

      Trauma, of course, is the keyword, and it can apply to anyone who has had a traumatic experience: cops, like you say, but PTSD is also common amongst victims of rape, incest, physical or emotional abuse either as a child or an adult, etc. Not all cases lead to suicide, but many times there is irreparable emotional damage.

      The problem with a counselling army is that the counselors need counselling too.

  2. Kate May 14, 2010 at 11:40 am #

    It has to stop?! Gah! That has to be one of the most ridiculous statements I’ve ever read – what does he think, they’ll all just cheer up and do as they’re told?!

    “If all 100 counselors worked directly with the patients, that would equal a caseload of 400 men and women each. ”

    Just worked out that if all 400 patients in each caseload received one hours counselling a week, each counsellor would have to work 80 hours a day, five days a week. I know, the numbers just don’t add up. I think this is one area the powers that be are going to have to dig into their pockets and pay for a major improvement to the service.

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