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June 30, 2013 6:05 AM   Subscribe

"Daniel Somers was a veteran of Operation Iraqi Freedom. He was part of Task Force Lightning, an intelligence unit."
In 2004-2005, he was mainly assigned to a Tactical Human-Intelligence Team (THT) in Baghdad, Iraq, where he ran more than 400 combat missions as a machine gunner in the turret of a Humvee, interviewed countless Iraqis ranging from concerned citizens to community leaders and and government officials, and interrogated dozens of insurgents and terrorist suspects.

In 2006-2007, Daniel worked with Joint Special Operations Command (JSOC) through his former unit in Mosul where he ran the Northern Iraq Intelligence Center. His official role was as a senior analyst for the Levant (Lebanon, Syria, Jordan, Israel, and part of Turkey).

Daniel suffered greatly from PTSD and had been diagnosed with traumatic brain injury and several other war-related conditions. On June 10, 2013, Daniel wrote the following letter to his family before taking his life. Daniel was 30 years old. His wife and family have given permission to publish it.
The study on US veteran suicide rates he refers to.

Some suicide prevention resources for veterans:
posted by eviemath (46 comments total) 12 users marked this as a favorite

 
Not an issue that I'm an expert on, so please feel free to add to my very short and quick-internet-search-generated list of resources.

Also, I might recommend having some tissues nearby when you read the main link:(
posted by eviemath at 6:07 AM on June 30, 2013


People would be shocked if they knew how many soldier's obituaries were there because of suicide. They don't talk about it. They don't publicize it. But when they come to buy flowers for the service-the friends tell me.
posted by St. Alia of the Bunnies at 6:13 AM on June 30, 2013 [13 favorites]


Thank you When I suffered my mental health problems my father, who never before spoke of his war, told me that he lost more people he knew in service through suicide than enemy action. This was the REME in WWII.
posted by BenPens at 6:27 AM on June 30, 2013 [2 favorites]


Wow this is tragic. The statistic he mentions, 22 former military folks killing themselves every day--surely that can't be right though? Is it?
posted by Potomac Avenue at 6:31 AM on June 30, 2013


The sad part is that this is unnecessary. PTSD was called "the thousand mile stare" in WW1 and by WW2 the military limited tours of duty to prevent it, but in the modern volunteer army there are not enough soldiers to cover the empire so these volunteers get to serve four, five, and six or more lenghty tours in the stress of the combat zone. I recall my uncles - who served with Patton in the artillery - talking about front line infantry: "we left those guys alone they were all cold-blooded killers." The real shit will hit the fan when someday all these damaged people are discharged back into the civilian population. But we can all be consoled secure in the knowledge that the world is so much better off without Saddam.....
posted by three blind mice at 6:32 AM on June 30, 2013 [5 favorites]


The statistic he mentions, 22 former military folks killing themselves every day--surely that can't be right though? Is it?

22 per day is correct.
posted by HuronBob at 6:38 AM on June 30, 2013 [3 favorites]


The last letter of Thomas Young (he is still alive).
posted by phoque at 6:44 AM on June 30, 2013 [3 favorites]


Some analysis to put this letter in context.
posted by eviemath at 7:04 AM on June 30, 2013 [1 favorite]


[Switched the main url to the original Gawker link, and the study link to the full version of the study as per OP]
posted by taz at 7:04 AM on June 30, 2013


One of the really puzzling things about this wave of military suicides, though, is that the rate is actually somewhat higher among those who have never been deployed in war zones and never seen combat; so while PTSD is definitely a very real problem its clearly not, in itself, the key to understanding military suicide.
posted by yoink at 7:09 AM on June 30, 2013 [4 favorites]


Before it was picked up by Gawker, the story about Daniel Somers and his letter first appeared in the Phoenix New Times. It's worthwhile to have a look at that because it talks about him a bit more personally as someone in the community, and about his band "Lisa Savidge" (not a real person, a made-up name for the band; YouTube), and also links back to an older article about the band where he also talks a bit about about his war experience.
posted by taz at 7:21 AM on June 30, 2013 [3 favorites]


From HuronBob's link to Forbes:
It’s important to note that the suicide rate overall in the United States has been rising, and veterans actually make up fewer suicide cases proportionately than they did 25 years ago. While the suicide rate in the U.S. has risen 31 percent since 1999, the rate among veterans has risen 22 percent in the same period.
The suicide rate has risen by 31% in 14 years? That's more than two percent a year. What the hell is going on?
posted by Joe in Australia at 7:54 AM on June 30, 2013 [1 favorite]


the rate is actually somewhat higher among those who have never been deployed in war zones and never seen combat

The suicide rate has risen by 31% in 14 years? That's more than two percent a year. What the hell is going on?
posted by infini at 8:22 AM on June 30, 2013


//The suicide rate has risen by 31% in 14 years? That's more than two percent a year. What the hell is going on?//

I don't know, but there has been one successful and one thankfully failed suicide attempt in my small social circle already this year.
posted by COD at 8:30 AM on June 30, 2013


One of the really puzzling things about this wave of military suicides, though, is that the rate is actually somewhat higher among those who have never been deployed in war zones and never seen combat; so while PTSD is definitely a very real problem its clearly not, in itself, the key to understanding military suicide.

I don't know. Having been in a relationship with someone who was in Air Force Intelligence, I can tell you that sometimes it doesn't matter whether or not someone is deployed--there is plenty of trauma to be had at the base, especially for Intel personnel or anyone involved in tactical planning. It's trauma that's compounded by never, ever being able to talk about it to someone who doesn't have the same clearance as you.
posted by corey flood at 8:35 AM on June 30, 2013 [5 favorites]


Wow. That was powerful and eloquently written.
posted by Unified Theory at 8:40 AM on June 30, 2013 [2 favorites]


suicide is #3, #2, #1 leading cause of death American males age 15-25, 25-35, 35-45.

Combat fatigue or shell shock or whatever you want to call it sure exacerbates the situation, but suicide is pandemic and taking a big toll with or without the Iraq- Afghanistan folly.
posted by bukvich at 9:06 AM on June 30, 2013 [1 favorite]


This man was eloquent -- and is my hero. I am sorry for our loss.
posted by lathrop at 9:17 AM on June 30, 2013 [1 favorite]


oh my god what a powerful letter. this part particularly struck me:
The last thought that has occurred to me is one of some kind of final mission. It is true that I have found that I am capable of finding some kind of reprieve by doing things that are worthwhile on the scale of life and death. While it is a nice thought to consider doing some good with my skills, experience, and killer instinct, the truth is that it isn’t realistic. First, there are the logistics of financing and equipping my own operation, then there is the near certainty of a grisly death, international incidents, and being branded a terrorist in the media that would follow. What is really stopping me, though, is that I simply am too sick to be effective in the field anymore. That, too, has been taken from me.


.
posted by ghostbikes at 9:40 AM on June 30, 2013 [1 favorite]


Also:
Beyond that, there are the host of physical illnesses that have struck me down again and again, for which they also offer no help. There might be some progress by now if they had not spent nearly twenty years denying the illness that I and so many others were exposed to.
Is this referring to PTSD? something else?
posted by ghostbikes at 9:42 AM on June 30, 2013 [2 favorites]


This kind of pisses me off, and not the way you'd think. Bring up suicide among civilians, and you get things to the effect of "Loser couldn't handle it, deserves to die, better off without them." but as soon as you mention they were in the military, then it becomes "How tragic! What can we do?". Heck, i'm even seeing that there are studies that only focus on military suicides and prevention of them, but that ignore the general population. Not even mentioning how having mental problems as a non-military person can get your insurance rates skyrocketing, if you can get it at all, and the very, very few that it covers. Focusing on one while ignoring the other helps no one.
posted by usagizero at 9:48 AM on June 30, 2013 [5 favorites]


.

The suicide rate has risen by 31% in 14 years? That's more than two percent a year. What the hell is going on?

The creeping social anomie inevitably produced by the current configuration of our culture, society and economy has built up to tragically perceptible levels. So, that Hell.

I need to thank whoever linked London's People of the Abyss a week or two ago. I was rivted by certain structural similarities in the dynamics London put a spotlight on and what we are doing today.
posted by snuffleupagus at 9:57 AM on June 30, 2013 [2 favorites]


" There might be some progress by now if they had not spent nearly twenty years denying the illness that I and so many others were exposed to."

Is this referring to PTSD? something else?


I'm thinking either TBI or Gulf War Syndrome (possibly linked to the use of depleted uranium in tank/artillery shells and other munitions).
posted by snuffleupagus at 10:02 AM on June 30, 2013


ghostbikes: "Also:
Beyond that, there are the host of physical illnesses that have struck me down again and again, for which they also offer no help. There might be some progress by now if they had not spent nearly twenty years denying the illness that I and so many others were exposed to.
Is this referring to PTSD? something else?
"

Yeah, I don't understand that either. The preface said he was 30 years old, so he got PTSD at ten years of age?
posted by InsertNiftyNameHere at 10:03 AM on June 30, 2013


Other vets of 80s operations, then Desert Storm and later operations, presumably, and then later including him.
posted by snuffleupagus at 10:04 AM on June 30, 2013


, I can tell you that sometimes it doesn't matter whether or not someone is deployed--there is plenty of trauma to be had at the base, especially for Intel personnel or anyone involved in tactical planning.

My friend's wife Samantha was a medic. They said she didn't have PTSD. How could she have PTSD, when she didn't deploy? Sure, she handled burn victims, people with limbs blown off, all day, but that's not trauma -right? So they discharged her without benefits, bought her a plane ticket and let her go.

She hung herself in 2007, shortly after that discharge.

It would be great if people stopped to think that everyone in the Army is at war, whether or not they technically deployed or not.

You can also be a drone operator and kill dozens of people while never leaving the USA.
posted by corb at 10:38 AM on June 30, 2013 [10 favorites]


.
posted by flyingsquirrel at 10:54 AM on June 30, 2013


...if they had not spent nearly twenty years denying the illness that I and so many others were exposed to.

I'm quite certain that's a reference to Gulf War Syndrome/Illness.
posted by jocelmeow at 11:37 AM on June 30, 2013


Bring up suicide among civilians, and you get things to the effect of "Loser couldn't handle it, deserves to die, better off without them."

Only, by and large, if you're talking to assholes.
posted by yoink at 12:04 PM on June 30, 2013 [3 favorites]


Ron Paul on The Death of Daniel Somers (mentions the stats discussed above)

Dying vet's "fuck you" letter to Bush and Cheney (via mahershalal)
posted by jeffburdges at 12:24 PM on June 30, 2013


As a doctor, I found this pretty alarming:


Lastly, the DEA enters the picture again as they have now managed to create such a culture of fear in the medical community that doctors are too scared to even take the necessary steps to control the symptoms. All under the guise of a completely manufactured “overprescribing epidemic,” which stands in stark relief to all of the legitimate research, which shows the opposite to be true. Perhaps, with the right medication at the right doses, I could have bought a couple of decent years, but even that is too much to ask from a regime built upon the idea that suffering is noble and relief is just for the weak.


"Overprescribing epidemic" alludes to opiates or perhaps benzos. Was he under treated, or did he find himself, as many survivors of trauma find themselves, a prescription drug addict who could no longer get an adequate fix? He's wrong about the research. Several years ago, there were many "expert opinions" and professional guidelines advocating that the careful prescribing of large opiate doses could help improve a person's function. But with the benefit of long term real world data, the current research is indicating that this leads to much worse outcomes, in terms of disability and depression. I'm not saying one ought not do something to alleviate suffering and pain, especially when other medical treatment options don't exist, but it underscores that depression and suicide are very real risks of poorly handled medical treatment.

John Prine, as he often does, put it eloquently:

Sam Stone came home
To his wife and family
After serving in the conflict overseas

And the time that he served
Had shattered all his nerves
And left a little shrapnel in his knees

But the morphine eased the pain
And the grass grew round his brain
And gave him all the confidence he lacked
With a Purple Heart and a monkey on his back


PTSD, TBI, and chronic pain are difficult, time consuming, multidisciplinary, expensive things to treat and no one has clear answers for it, even if the funding and manpower exist. War brings out all kinds of advances in medicine -- new surgical techniques, prosthetics for amputees, etc. This is a real opportunity to advance the state of knowledge in behavioral medicine and instead we sent soldiers out for their third and fourth combat tour and cut VA funding while community resources for drug and alcohol treatment remain non-existent. There's been more attention and awareness of these issues but still we're moving backward.

I won't leave my . because I don't think we should be silent anymore.
posted by Slarty Bartfast at 12:37 PM on June 30, 2013 [5 favorites]


Is the work on using MDMA to treat PTSD progressing reasonably? I've met a couple doctors who felt really hopeful about MDMA, but that's a couple years ago now.
posted by jeffburdges at 12:44 PM on June 30, 2013 [1 favorite]


Thank you When I suffered my mental health problems my father, who never before spoke of his war, told me that he lost more people he knew in service through suicide than enemy action. This was the REME in WWII.

Suicide Rates Soar among WWII Vets, Records Show
posted by homunculus at 12:53 PM on June 30, 2013 [2 favorites]


Having been in a relationship with someone who was in Air Force Intelligence, I can tell you that sometimes it doesn't matter whether or not someone is deployed--there is plenty of trauma to be had at the base

Sure; but that still wouldn't account for the fact that the suicide rate is higher among those who have never been deployed than among those who have been. That is, while there's obviously plenty of occasion for PTSD among those who have not been deployed, there's little reason to imagine that PTSD is actually higher for non-deployed troops than deployed troops. Consequently, something besides PTSD must account for the high suicide rate among military personnel--even while PTSD is clearly among the causes of suicides among military personnel.

The creeping social anomie inevitably produced by the current configuration of our culture, society and economy has built up to tragically perceptible levels.

Yeah, maybe. People might point to the recently elevated suicide rate among middle aged men in the US to support that claim. On the other hand, you have the problem that if you trace the suicide rate among middle aged men back more than a couple of decades you'll see that the current high is actually a return to the rate it used to be after a recent dip. So...what happened? Did "creeping anomie" creep away for awhile before it crept back?

Frankly, I don't think we know anywhere near enough about the causes of suicide to make the kinds of sweeping claims that people like to make with any confidence. Suicide is one of those areas where people just reach for whatever their pet cause happens to be and assign it as the origin of high suicide levels; but we really just don't know. There was an excellent piece in the NYTimes recently about a guy who is researching suicide and trying to understand its origins. He sounds many really useful notes of caution.
posted by yoink at 1:05 PM on June 30, 2013 [5 favorites]


ghostbikes: "Is this referring to PTSD? something else?"

It can be inferred (DEA) that he was partly talking about prescription pain medications.
posted by stratastar at 1:09 PM on June 30, 2013 [1 favorite]


22 per day is correct.

I wonder how many it would be if we included contractors. An old friend of mine killed himself last year; he'd been in Iraq and Afghanistan, and I have the impression from talking to mutual friends who were still in touch with him at the end of his life that he'd come back much darker than when he left.
posted by The corpse in the library at 3:23 PM on June 30, 2013 [1 favorite]


Is it possible that suicide rates are higher in non-deployed personnel because deployed personnel have other ways of dying?
posted by Joe in Australia at 4:06 PM on June 30, 2013 [3 favorites]


The statistic he mentions, 22 former military folks killing themselves every day--surely that can't be right though? Is it? 22 per day is correct.

"Military en are just dumb, stupid animals to be used as pawns in foreign policy" Henry Kissinger

An excuse used elsewhere on The Blue to explain 'bad things': "we are acting within the laws passed by congress to keep you safe."
posted by rough ashlar at 5:09 PM on June 30, 2013 [1 favorite]


Is it possible that suicide rates are higher in non-deployed personnel because deployed personnel have other ways of dying?

The U.S. hasn't lost, on average, two service members per day in OIF and OEF combined, much less 22 per day.
posted by Etrigan at 8:40 PM on June 30, 2013 [1 favorite]


22 servicemembers a day are not dying. 22 veterans a day are dying.

I do not think the suicide rate is higher among nondeployed than deployed members. Possibly, the successful suicide rate is higher among nondeployed vets, and that might be for a few factors - one of which being the bonds that deployed vets make with each other. I can't count the amount of times I've been on the phone telling a buddy of mine not to kill themselves until they saw me and we talked about it. Most of my crazy deployed friends live with or near to other crazy deployed friends, and so they are just not alone enough to kill themselves in obvious ways. Car accidents, overdoses, drunken situations. These are not technically considered suicides. But they come from the same places and are the same things.
posted by corb at 9:41 PM on June 30, 2013 [3 favorites]


The illness could have been exposure to Depleted Uranium. Nasty stuff resulted from it.
posted by Katjusa Roquette at 9:55 PM on June 30, 2013


The illness could have been exposure to Depleted Uranium.

It could also be from the stuff burned in the burn pits on the bases because burn pits will generate nasty mutengentic toxins just like Uranium is a muntengentic heavy metal.

"We" do not know, and who's doing to 'do the science'?
posted by rough ashlar at 2:41 AM on July 1, 2013


22 servicemembers a day are not dying. 22 veterans a day are dying.

The implication of "deployed personnel have other means of dying" sounded to me like Joe was under the impression that a lot of service members who would otherwise have been suicides died in combat (or at least in combat theaters). But the comparatively low death rates in OEF and OIF don't come near to "making up"any sort of statistical difference.
posted by Etrigan at 4:36 AM on July 1, 2013


There are far fewer suicides amongst active duty personnel, only about one suicide per day, compared with 22 suicides per day for veterans (see the forbes link). I'd expect the activity itself plays an enormous role in protecting active duty personnel, but age plays some role with two thirds of veteran suicides being over 50.
posted by jeffburdges at 5:16 AM on July 1, 2013


Yes, that's what I meant. I theorised that someone contemplating suicide might intentionally engage in risky behavior, and that these deaths would not be classified as suicide. But Etrigan's figures make that seem impossible: there just aren't enough combat-related deaths.
posted by Joe in Australia at 5:18 AM on July 1, 2013


that these deaths would not be classified as suicide.

VS deaths like Private First CLass LaVena Johnson that the Army called a suicide. With acid burns on genitalia (memory says - acid in the vagina) and a bullet hole in her head.
posted by rough ashlar at 11:38 AM on July 1, 2013


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