"Captains Courageous"
August 16, 2012 1:54 AM   Subscribe

'While they never met, they had some things in common. Both were Army captains, engaged in important work for the nation, their costly educations paid for by U.S. taxpayers. Ian Morrison, 26, returned to Fort Hood, Texas, last December after nine months flying 70 combat missions over Iraq. Dr. Michael McCaddon, 37, was an ob-gyn resident at Hawaii’s Tripler Army Medical Center. The pilot and the doctor shared one other thing: they found themselves in a darkening, soul-sucking funnel that has trapped some 2,500 military personnel since 9/11. Like them, each died, at his own hand, on March 21, nearly 4,000 miles apart.'

'As of 3 June, 2012 active-duty suicides reached 154, compared with 130 in the same period last year, the Pentagon confirmed to the BBC.' 'Suicides Outpacing War Deaths for Troops.'

Suicide in the US military has been growing for years - CBS(Youtube) did a report in 2007. There are two parts. Anthony Swofford(previously) characterizes them as an 'epidemic'.
One reason for veteran suicides (and crimes, which get far more attention) may be post-traumatic stress disorder, along with a related condition, traumatic brain injury. Ryan suffered a concussion in an explosion in Iraq, and Michael finally had traumatic brain injury diagnosed two months ago.
Death isn't the only thing that follows them: 'It would be so much easier, Maj. Ben Richards says, if he had just lost a leg in Iraq' 'Beyond the Battlefield: From a Decade of War, an Endless Struggle for the Severely Wounded.' 'Mad, Bad, Sad: What Really Happens to US Soldiers.' IED blasts are blamed for the increase in PTSD and TBI (traumatic brain injury), a contributing factor, while military culture can prevent people from seeking help.

Is PTSD A Product of War, or Of Our Times? Attempts to identify people susceptible to PTSD are underway, while new treatments become available. The government needs to do a better job of assessing and reviewing PTSD treatment. This is made more difficult with the counter-intuitive warning signs of suicide.

Previously on Metafilter: The Downward Spiral
posted by the man of twists and turns (26 comments total) 18 users marked this as a favorite
"The story is not available online unless you're a subscriber"

posted by Joseph Gurl at 3:02 AM on August 16, 2012

SUICIDAL CONFESSION: “It Wasn’t Until I Sat Down to Write “the Note” That I Realized How Desperate I Was for Help” - and the full article, with analysis of the TIME story.
Compare the rate of suicide among our service members to the national average and you shouldn’t be surprised. As reported by FT.com in 2010, an internal U.S. Army report revealed “160 active duty soldiers took their lives in the 2009 fiscal year, putting the Army suicide rate at a record 20.2 per 100,000, exceeding the national average of 19.2...” And that trend isn’t new. According to a March 2011 Examiner.com story, “As of 2008, the suicide rate in the military has surpassed that of the civilian population, and it has steadily increased since that time. Before the Iraq and Afghanistan conflicts began in 2001, the rate was rarely over 10 per 100,000.”
TIME, again: New Study: U.S. Military Suicide Rate Now Likely Double or Triple Civil War’s. Also: Soldier Suicides, An Epidemic We Must Defeat, by Jim McDermott

blog 'This Ain't Hell' writes:
It seems to me that if only 8.5% of troops who deploy three or more times commit suicide, prolonged service during wartime strengthens that protective function that they mentioned there.
Captain Morrison's wife, Rebecca Morrison 'wants to be part of a solution, not the problem.'
posted by the man of twists and turns at 3:13 AM on August 16, 2012 [1 favorite]

PTSD and TBI are related due to the fact they have very similar symptoms and a person may develop one or the other from the same incident, but are very different cases and dealt with in very different ways.

I know that it seems to be a popular idea that the armed services are not even admitting PTSD exists, but the VA has the best site around to learn about PTSD. So it's not like they're turning a blind eye to the problem, but it is a very complicated problem that the affected person may not even be aware of because of all the bullshit machismo and stigmatization if they do.
posted by Rocket Surgeon at 4:39 AM on August 16, 2012 [1 favorite]

Last week I came across an older Time magazine while sorting books for the non-profit at which I work. I felt compelled to blow off work and sit in the floor of the warehouse to read it. The story (the one mentioned in the first link, apparently) featured the widow of McCaddon along with his story. It broke my heart and I've thought about him, the other two men in that story, their families, and how fucked up the military complex can treat it's men (and women) since that day. Every day.

Great fpp. I'm glad I'm not the only person thinking about this regularly. Fuck the war. Fuck PTSD. God bless America, as they say...
posted by youandiandaflame at 5:10 AM on August 16, 2012 [2 favorites]

Gilgamesh wept.
posted by MonkeyToes at 5:23 AM on August 16, 2012 [1 favorite]

PTSD is definitely not "a product of our times."

I had a great-uncle who served in WW I and was in the balloon corps. I never got too many details, but the story we were told involved Sam being trapped in a balloon watching a gas attack underway beneath him.

For the rest of his life, should there be even a suggestion of lightning and thunder, he would try to find a windowless room to lock himself into, usually a bathroom.

When I asked what was wrong with Uncle Sam, the answer was whispered, "he was shell shocked!" and I was told to leave him alone and that it was rude to ask questions. I was told he'd been like that since 1918.

That was in the early 60s.
posted by kinnakeet at 5:32 AM on August 16, 2012 [11 favorites]

My grandfather went to Europe in 1942 a garrulous, tee tolling, trumpet player, with an 8 handicap. He came back an abusive alcoholic, who would wake up at 2am to go outside because "prowlers".

His mom and dad were born and raised in Germany. He was military police and he had a Walther PPK and some daggers he took from a dead nazi... No explanation of how he died.

Everyone knows that war changes people, often for the worse. This page could be filled with 300 comments of MeFites speaking of someone close to them that is going through something similar. The real tragedy is that we don't have more resources available for this sort of thing. Some of it is the culture, I'm told. I can't remember exactly how he said it, but my cousin who has some form of PTSD, most apparent when he's suffering from his occasional insomnia, said something like this:

"They build you up and train you to be a warrior, then one day they don't need warriors. At least, not you. The only people who understand what you're going through are other warriors, and they don't want to talk about their "feelings" because that's not what warriors do. After a while, you start to think about someone in your unit KIA. Yeah, he's dead, but he's not walking around a useless warrior. He dies a warrior. Then you're jealous of a dead guy. It's not survivor's guilt. It's survivor's envy."

The way he said it sounded way better than it looks after I type it, so I missed something.
posted by Bathtub Bobsled at 6:06 AM on August 16, 2012 [21 favorites]

The real tragedy is that we don't have more resources available for this sort of thing.

I really appreciate your thought, Bathtub Bobsled, but I disagree on this part. We do have the resources to deal with it. We just choose not to. There is not benefit to any elected official to going on the rampage about how veterans are taken care of because the American voter has so far demonstrated that it is not important to them. At least, it isn't important enough to make it an voting priority over other competing priorities. And that, my friends, is the shame. For example, the Military is routinely handed piles of money for weapons systems it doesn't want because those weapons systems create jobs in some congressman's home district. This money is desperately needed by the people treating veterans - but that care is not sexy and doesn't make awesome rock videos. This is not a Republican or Democrat issue other than both parties suck at making this a priority.

If there is a creator, and we as a country have to stand before him/her/it to answer for our sins as a country - well, this will be one of the major ones.
posted by jason says at 7:28 AM on August 16, 2012 [7 favorites]

The government which runs this country and the media who doesn't expose their lies and deceptions -- both of these failed Anderson especially, by getting him to become a murderer for oil company interests. I say Anderson especially because he was young enough to not have had a chance to open his eyes, whereas McCaddon, ten years older, made eyes-open choices to participate in the war machine.

I love how the recently retired general talks as if it's some huge mystery that there is not money available to treat men suffering from this, as though these aren't choices being made intentionally -- seems there's plenty of money to build bombs and train more fools to step into these mens shoes.

Worse than any of this is that no one is saying anything about the millions of sufferers of ptsd in Iraq, and the fact that they've never been treated, cared for or cared about in any way. I love how the only "casualty numbers" reported in the media are US soldiers, or at most "coalition forces", as though the people under the bombs haven't suffered seventeen thousand times worse.

My country, tis of thee
sweet land of death machine
of thee I sing
posted by dancestoblue at 7:34 AM on August 16, 2012 [1 favorite]

The government which runs this country and the media who doesn't expose their lies and deceptions -- both of these failed Anderson especially, by getting him to become a murderer for oil company interests.

Sorry, dancestoblue, but if you have ever voted for somebody who has ever held a national elected office, you are as much a part of this problem as is anyone else. I am not blaming you as an individual, but all of us (including myself). We collectively must shoulder the responsibility for caring for these people, making sure they have what they need - as they acted under elected officials' direction.

As Hello, I'm David McGahan said in a previous post: "Civilian control of the military means civilian responsibility for the consequences of that control."
posted by jason says at 7:52 AM on August 16, 2012 [2 favorites]

The depression probably gets much worse with the realization that you are/were one of the bad guys.
posted by wrapper at 8:19 AM on August 16, 2012

...putting the Army suicide rate at a record 20.2 per 100,000, exceeding the national average of 19.2...

Is that accurate? I'm stunned that the difference is so low (one more suicide per 100,000 veterans compared to the general populace).
posted by jsturgill at 8:26 AM on August 16, 2012 [1 favorite]

We do have the resources to deal with it. We just choose not to.

As in money? Sure, we have plenty of money to put on this problem. The DoD puts out huge contracts to fill positions for various mental health clinics and research around the country.

What we lack are highly trained people, (psychiatrists, psycologists, radiologists, psychometricians, clinical case workers), who are ready to work a job that will be endlessly depressing, on army bases (read: middle of nowhere), and have crazy high case volumes? The people who do take these jobs get burned out.

Furthermore there just aren't enough students in the "pipeline". TBI research is a new field that's growing, lots of fundamental issues still to be answered. We don't have a robust medical and scientific infrastructure to answer these issues and treat these patients (if they're identified at all). We're growing one, and it takes time.

Money is easy. If there's one thing the DoD knows how to do, it's throw money at a problem. This is much more nebulous.
posted by fontophilic at 8:53 AM on August 16, 2012

Is that accurate? I'm stunned that the difference is so low (one more suicide per 100,000 veterans compared to the general populace).

It also said that the rate used to be 10 in 100,000. The military does select for healthy people, so you'd expect the rate to be lower than average... until you send them off to kill or be killed, obviously.
posted by Huck500 at 9:36 AM on August 16, 2012 [1 favorite]

"The VA estimates that a veteran takes his or her own life every 80 minutes — 6,500 suicides per year. That’s 20 percent of all suicides in the United States." source

There are multiple categories that get conflated. Suicide rates for the Army are not suicide rates for the active military as a whole. Suicide rates for the activity military misses the suicides of reservists. Suicide rates for active and reserves misses the suicides of veterans. Poor record keeping at the VA misses veteran status.

Suffice it to say, a active or former member of the military takes his/her own life approximately every two hours. Without hyperbole I can say that this truly effed up.

Add into this the shocking lack of care for veterans who fall off the tracks: 75k homeless on any given night, 1.3M veterans receiving care at the VA, who reports a 20% gap in providers, and ad nauseam.

I had a long rant ready to post on this, but instead I will drink a beer and think of cute puppies and kittens.
posted by jason says at 10:51 AM on August 16, 2012

But thank you all for actually giving a shit about this.
posted by jason says at 10:52 AM on August 16, 2012

Sorry - just realized that last sounded snarky. It was, in fact, a sincere thank you.
posted by jason says at 10:54 AM on August 16, 2012

PTSD is different from a broken leg. Sometimes the symptoms don't becomes obvious for several years, maybe decades. The stunned condition that some people feel after a particularly harrowing combat experience is not PTSD. Some symptoms of PTSD are subtle, so they go unnoticed. Consider that a young soldier is still maturing, so his changes in perspective are viewed as "growing up."

Some people realize that PTSD is a medical condition (not an attitude problem), but they wrongly believe that it can therefore be cured through counseling, or mediated with drugs. This is not always the case. In fact, PTSD is usually untreated because the sufferer doesn't know he has it. He then sets out on a course that leads him further into the darkness: self medication with various drugs or alcohol. He acts inappropriately. The consequenses of this depend on where he is at the time. Sometimes he gets killed, sometimes thrown in jail, or sometimes he just loses his job, family, home, and so on. Pyschotic episodes ensue, and he may develop other symptoms, actually, more usually a cluster of symptoms, of which PSTD is only an overarching behavioral characteristic (hyper-vigilance, for example).

PTSD cannot always be cured. Most times the veteran is stuck with it. Certain physiological changes in the brain cause inappropriate feelings, hyper-responses to certain things. The Veteran may not hallucinate, but he isn't able to simply calm down. He may get relief through counseling, so that he can deal with some of the issues that come up, and he may get relief via drugs, so that he can get a night's sleep now and then. He may not actually be disfuntional, or suicidal. He may develope eccentric behavior while attempting to deal with what's going on. Lots of guys like to bunker up and try to ride it out, so they won't hurt anybody. Isolation is not a good tool in the long run, but sometimes it's the best you can do.

The VA tries to deal with this. A problem here is that the wounded warrior, as they call them nowadays, doesn't want to be labeled as fucked up. Anyone wishing to make a career out of the military is pretty much out of a job. When he gets out, he's labeled with what most people (mistakenly) see as a mental illness. Put that on your job application and see how it flies. I think it may be instructive for the reader here to reflect for a minute how you might feel, after a long and frustrating jaunt with the VA, when your rating hits 100 percent--you've been trying to tell them this for years. Now you are officially one hundred percent fucked up. Yippee.

It's good to see that the bandwagon promoting PTSD awareness has gained a few more horses in harness since I was in the Army. It seems that Vietnam Veterans accomplished at least that much. But if you want to deal with PTSD, then maybe it would be helpful to strike at the causes of it, as well as trying to handle the symptoms.

Upthread someone mentioned all the non-Americans who are probably victims of PTSD. Yeah. That's actually an issue with a lot of us. You can help stop creating those victims the same way you can help Americans from becoming victims. One way is to refuse to let our government use warfare as a foreign-policy tool. Seems like such a small thing: to ask our leaders to not send us off to kill people in an attempt to bring them the benefits of freedom and democracy.
posted by mule98J at 11:56 AM on August 16, 2012 [7 favorites]

Isn't the easiest solution to this, not trying to be snarky here, to not send people off to kill other people? If we do, though, we owe those people a lifetime of health care, mental and physical.
posted by maxwelton at 12:24 PM on August 16, 2012 [1 favorite]

Ken Kesey’s Wars: “One Flew Over the Cuckoo's Nest” at 50
The Chief is not the only patient who lives in a fog of war. Old Colonel Matterson thinks he’s still in World War I. Billy Bibbit suffered a breakdown in ROTC training when he couldn’t answer the drill officer’s command without stuttering. McMurphy, who received a dishonorable discharge in the Korean War for insubordination, likens group therapy to his time in “a Red Chinese prison camp”; when he is being hauled in for shock therapy, he says sarcastically that he regrets having “but one life to give for his country.” Even Nurse Ratched, we are told in passing, received her training as an Army nurse.

Kesey suggests that war is not only a cause of the patients’ trauma (“I was hurt by seeing things in the Army, in the war,” says Chief Bromden), but a result of it. The mechanization of society leads, inevitably, to a militant society. This is what happens in the ward, after all, where the patients wage an insurgency against Nurse Ratched and her staff. “She’s lost a battle here today,” says the Chief after one early skirmish, “but it’s a minor battle in a big war that she’s been winning and that she’ll go on winning.”
posted by the man of twists and turns at 10:57 PM on August 17, 2012

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