By far, the biggest applause during Tuesday's State of the Union speech was in response to a message from the president offering support to American troops serving around the world, especially in Iraq and Afghanistan. Every person present in the chamber rose to his or her feet and stood clapping for several seconds to show their commitment and gratitude to soldiers fighting some of the longest wars in our nation's history.
Consider that scene against the backdrop of this hideous fact as reported from Congress.org: For the second year in a row, the U.S. military has lost more troops to suicide than it has to combat in Iraq and Afghanistan.
The article admits that the way these figures are calculated are less than crystal clear, but goes on to say that:
the suicide rate is a further indication of the stress that military personnel live under after nearly a decade of war.
Overall, the services reported 434 suicides by personnel on active duty, significantly more than the 381 suicides by active-duty personnel reported in 2009. The 2010 total is below the 462 deaths in combat, excluding accidents and illness. In 2009, active-duty suicides exceeded deaths in battle.
Last week’s figures, though, understate the problem of military suicides because the services do not report the statistics uniformly. Several do so only reluctantly.
Figures reported by each of the services last week, for instance, include suicides by members of the Guard and Reserve who were on active duty at the time. The Army and the Navy also add up statistics for certain reservists who kill themselves when they are not on active duty.
Supporting American soldiers who are sent again and again to fight wars across the globe is the right thing to do for American lawmakers, but this support must be deeper than a few moments of polite and patriotic applause during a presidential speech. President Obama promised that the Iraq war was coming to a close, and that troops would be home by summer. But these numbers show that the war won't end when the last soldiers leave Iraq. Rather, battles will rage on for years, and perhaps decades, to come, and lawmakers and other public officials will do well to remember that their applause must only be the beginning of a process to offer support and healing for America's wounded warriors.
Michael J. O'Loughlin