October 31st, 2011
02:06 PM ET

Kayyem: U.S. veteran dies by suicide every 80 minutes

Editor's Note: Juliette Kayyem is a former Assistant Secretary at the Department of Homeland Security, a lecturer at the Kennedy School of Government and a foreign policy columnist for the Boston Globe. She tweets @JulietteKayyem.

By Juliette Kayyem – Special to CNN

This last week, policymakers and presidential candidates debated the wisdom of President Obama's decision to withdraw all troops from Iraq by the end of this year.  By this weekend, the Pentagon's buildup of resources in the Gulf - a "just in case" strategy - suggested that abandonment (the term used by Obama's critics) was not the right way to describe our efforts.

Whatever the contours of the continuing wars, the real battles still loom in the military.  And it isn't just about the budget and what the debt ceiling commission will do in the next few days.  The real battle is over military and veteran suicides. To put this in perspective: Based on the years between 2005 and 2010, service members take their lives at a rate of one every 36 hours; the Veterans Administration now estimates that a veteran dies by suicide every 80 minutes.

What to do about it is essential, and the Center for a New American Security is at the forefront of providing recommendations about two distinct issues: servicemember suicide and veteran suicide. Understanding the difference is essential, because the solutions will differ according to the needs.  In their report by Dr. Megan Harrell and Nancy Berglass entitled "Losing the Battle: The Challenge of Military Suicide", address the increasing suicide problem and provide very manageable recommendations, including keeping units together after deployment to limit feelings of isolation.

The report will be issued tomorrow at an event I will be moderating I had an opportunity to read it and here's my take:  Fixing the suicide problem isn't just about the wars today, but about the wars
tomorrow.  Heartstrings aside, if service in an all-volunteer army comes to be associated with depression and misery, then solving the problem is as crucial for the next war as the ones now winding down.

“The willingness with which our young people are likely to serve in any war, no matter how justified, shall be directly proportional to how they perceive the veterans of earlier wars were treated and appreciated by their nation,’’ George Washington said.  We can debate how these wars are ending, but the battles are simply not over.  Our security can not afford to turn the page just yet.

The views expressed in this article are solely those of Juliette Kayyem.

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Topics: Culture • Military • United States

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soundoff (20 Responses)
  1. SubSalr

    While nearly invisible with two ongoing wars these brave men and women and the problems they bring home with them will become huge and unknown by an indifferent society. Their problems will be private problems and an ugly reminder for the 99% who have not and will continue to avoid any service thanks to the all volunteer military.

    October 31, 2011 at 2:26 pm | Reply
    • John

      Did it ever occur to you SubSalr, that some people are conscientious enough not to want to kill people who don't deserve to die only to satisfy the greed of the huge corporations and to promote the careers of these worthless right-wing politicians in Washington? But then again, some join the military for a chance to kill because their ignorant right-wing parents taught them that killing afforded a certain amount of glory! Grow a brain, will you???

      October 31, 2011 at 8:53 pm | Reply
      • NANVAN

        John, I have never ever read anything so callous and shallow as you post!! I am not happy about these two wars started by Bush and Company w lies and machinations....BUT.......where do you think you would be now if it wasn't for our military and the brave men and women who join up...........for WHATEVER THEIR REASONS......have you fjorgotten 9/11 or can you even recall Pearl Harbor?? Seems to me you would make a better human being if you learned to have some compassion and not 'lump all you opines in a one way manner'.....You must be a extremely bitter person!!

        November 1, 2011 at 1:17 pm |
      • Hilary

        I'm ptrtey sure that is the name they've given to a galactic alliance. These specific aliens are the Shalonia. They are responsible for preparing our conciousness for contact. They will be back in 2012. If you want more information you can ask Bashar. (the channel) He has predicted all this, and all of his predictions have come true so far. Don't expect open contact until 2020 and mass contact until 2033.VA:F [1.9.9_1125]please wait...Rating: 0.0/5 (0 votes cast)VA:F [1.9.9_1125]Rating: 0 (from 0 votes)

        February 12, 2012 at 2:10 am |
  2. Onesmallvoice

    This indeed is a national tragedy but let's put the blame squarely where it belongs, that is, on the right-wing politicians in Washington who get us into all these useless and unnecessary wars!!! The only way to avoid this is to vote these right-wing, self-serving, amoral fanatics out of office but it's not quite that simple, unfortunately, as long as the general public remains ignorant enough to vote for these people over and over again!!!

    October 31, 2011 at 3:41 pm | Reply
    • NANVAN

      AAAMEN, AAAMEN, AAMEN, AMENNN, AAAMEN!! All we need are many one small voices....

      November 1, 2011 at 1:18 pm | Reply
  3. Bob Patterson

    As one who is involved in issues related to veterans, I have been pleased to make the acquaintance of Bryan Doerries and his Theater of War Project (http://www.theater-of-war.com/). Building on the excellent work of Dr. Johnathan Shay, Bryan connects the dots in much the way that General Washington suggested. Both Bryan and Dr. Shay use the Odyssy and the Illiad (Bryan through the work of Sophocles) to help the young veterans understand that they are part of a continuum reach back over a thousand years. it works.

    October 31, 2011 at 4:57 pm | Reply
    • NANVAN

      AAAHHHH, someone with compassion and brains.........not like John who has a closed mind!!

      November 1, 2011 at 1:19 pm | Reply
  4. Gopher

    Only sick and twisted minds would use an issue like this to advance their political agenda. I thank God for the brave men and woman who make such great personal sacrifices to protect our liberty. I hope the right solutions are found to stop this trend, and give a meaningful life back to those who have given us a meaningful life.

    November 1, 2011 at 10:29 am | Reply
    • John

      Come on, Gopher, you know better than that. Those useless wars have nothing to do with any of our so-called "rights" or freedoms. Anyone with half a brain would know that!!!

      November 1, 2011 at 12:14 pm | Reply
      • NANVAN

        Talk about 'half a brain'............it seems you are stuck in just one side of yours .... you DO NOT have an open or compassionate mind nor are you a person of that persuasion.......it's so obvious......

        November 1, 2011 at 1:21 pm |
  5. j. von hettlingen

    Service-members commit suicide because they can't cope with the war – stress, fear of being killed and mobbing.

    November 1, 2011 at 11:25 am | Reply
    • j. von hettlingen

      Veteran suicide is often a result of social neglect. Many return home and have no place to stay. Some suffer from trauma and need psychiatric help, but can't afford any treatment.

      November 1, 2011 at 11:26 am | Reply
    • Doug

      Negative. Veterans commit suicide due to the lack of social aspects they face when they come home. Trust me... I know by first hand experience.

      November 1, 2011 at 10:33 pm | Reply
    • Ned

      Overcoming the isolation of the individual service member is essential. Consider the typical age (under 30 – no specific numbers for this response), showing weakness is not for them a warrier attribute. This applies to those that have experienced combat as well as those serving in a support MOS (Military Occupational Specialty) that are less likely to have directly experienced the trauma of conflict.
      This is not a political problem of the party du jour – it is a problem of "we the people".

      January 4, 2012 at 4:13 pm | Reply

    Right Von............and that's where our Vet services should come in............AND..............oft' times these returning Vets don't want to get the help they really need as they see it as a weakness........AND THEN WHAT CAN WE DO....many have no families to be with or have lost all of their friends..............anyway.........AND almost forgot...they should not have to pay for treatment AS IT IS AVAILABLE TO ALL VETS if only they'd take advantage of it abeit sometimes their is a wait and they must have patience

    November 1, 2011 at 1:23 pm | Reply
  7. Ted

    With respect to all of you that have taken the time to write your views,I did not notice any one state that they are a Combat Veteran.
    I am. Viet Nam 1966-67. Navy Special Ops.,over 250 missions,wounded 3 times. Lost 4 men. I am diagnosed with PTSD at 100% disability,flashbacks,nightmares etc. and after 45 years I still sleep with a gun.
    The parallels of the two wars are more similar than most non veteran observers will recognize. The differences relating to this article are dramatic.
    To all of you voicing opinions I thank you for your interest. BUT,this is NOT a political problem. It is NOT Right-Left,Republican or Democrat.It does not mean a tinkers damn WHO started the war or for WHAT reasons.
    Those things DO NOT belong in this conversation period. The only thing that belongs here is spreading the word,offering ideas for solutions,reaching out on a personal basis,Having the courage to ask Veterans "How can I help?"
    There are several out reach programs that are working hard without government funding trying to pick up the slack that the Veterans Administration Can NOT handle. The V.A. tried to "medicate" us through it for years,doesn't work. Recent medical findings,article in the NYMagazine,found meds. a failure treating battle field PTSD.
    These men and women coming back are going to be harder to treat. Why? Because one of the most significant markers of PTSD is "Length of Exposure". The troops coming hoe have ,for the most part, served multiple tours. We in the Viet Nam war were only REQUIRED to serve one tour.The new vets have a more difficult road.
    As I said before,this is not a Right or Left problem.
    It is OUR problem.
    This is going to affect and effect more of you than you can imagine.
    Get involved. ----You already are.
    Thanks for reading. Reach out.......

    November 1, 2011 at 3:34 pm | Reply
    • Concerned

      Thanks Ted.

      For anyone else concened, please advocate the Vetran's Crisis Line of the V.A. It provides an avenue for services, free of charge, to Vets. 1-800-273-8255 and Press 1.

      November 2, 2011 at 12:15 pm | Reply
  8. Gary

    As an OIF veteran, I agree completely with Ted. Anyone who tries to turn this into a political argument is ignorant to the situation. The issue isn't the wars or the reasons or the money. The issue is our service-members and vets thinking that they have no option, other than suicide. Having gone through the mandatory "screenings" when I came home, I can tell you that they are worthless. Its a survey that everyone knows the correct answers to. You answer the questions the way you're supposed to, and you drive on. One of the issues is the "drive-on" mindset instilled in service-members.

    November 6, 2011 at 1:10 pm | Reply

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