The rate has increased despite the U.S. drawdown of troops in both countries and military efforts to provide mental health, drug and alcohol, and financial counseling services.
In response, the Defense Department (DoD) has established a Defense Suicide Prevention Office and DoD has worked with Veterans Affairs (VA) to create a suicide awareness campaign.
Paul Rieckhoff, executive director of Iraq and Afghanistan Veterans of America, told The Times that suicides among active-duty military personnel were merely “the tip of the iceberg,” citing a survey his organization had done of 160,000 members that found that 37 percent knew someone who had committed suicide.
Rieckhoff said there was a shortage of qualified mental health professionals to assist active duty soldiers and that some service men and women fear being stigmatized if they seek professional help.
One veteran, who did not want to be identified, told BlackAmericaWeb.com in an earlier interview that when she asked for counseling after her first tour in Iraq, she was ignored. When told she would be redeployed she said she asked for a deferment and was told that if she insisted on treatment, she would be considered a malingerer and stripped of her rank.
The woman said she feared losing rank and with the economy in tough straits, going back to civilian life seemed out of the question. She said she was given some medication “and I took those little pills and went right back to Iraq.”
She served two more years after her second deployment before finally mustering out of the Army. She got help and is now working and back in college.
“Obtaining employment and quality education remain big obstacles, as well. Iraq and Afghanistan veterans continue to face higher levels of unemployment compared to civilians, according to the (Bureau of Labor Statistics),” Rieckhoff wrote in a blog for the Huffington Post in September.
“This underlies the fact that just as we need a national effort to win the battle against suicide, we need the same collaboration to surge against veteran unemployment and other challenges facing the New Greatest Generation.”