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OpEdNews Op Eds    H2'ed 11/18/09

U.S. Army Underreporting Suicides, Says GI Advocacy Group

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Message Dahr Jamail
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According to a soldiers' advocacy group at Fort Hood, the U.S. base where an army psychiatrist has been charged with killing 13 people and wounding 30 in a Nov. 5 rampage, the official suicide figures provided by the Army are "definitely" too low.

Chuck Luther served 12 years in the military and is a veteran of two deployments to Iraq, where he was a reconnaissance scout in the 1st Cavalry Division. The former sergeant was based at Fort Hood, where he lives today.

"I see the ugly," Luther told IPS. "I see soldiers beating their wives and trying to kill themselves all the time, and most folks don't want to look at this, including the military."

Luther, who in 2007 became the founder and director of the Soldier's Advocacy Group of Disposable Warriors, knows about these types of internal problems in the military because he has been through many of them himself.

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Luther told IPS that he believes the real number of soldiers at Fort Hood committing suicide is being dramatically underreported by the military.

"There are suicides of active-duty troops occurring regularly both on and off base," Luther said. "One of them I knew personally since I served with him in Iraq and he was one of my soldiers, and they still have him listed as under investigation for suicide."

"From what I know right now, there are at least three suicides they are not reporting at all. Most notably, there is a soldier who committed suicide that the Army confirmed through a press conference, and this is not being reported, and I'm working with the Pentagon to try to find out why that is not being reported," he said. "The Army won't even release his name."

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Yet Luther believes the situation is even worse.

"I definitely believe there are more than these. If this is what they've hidden from us that we know of, we can rest assured there are many, many more than this. We filed a FOIA [Freedom of Information Act] to get information from them [Army], but they bog you down in red tape," he said.

Due to the military's continued attempts to mask the true number of suicides in the ranks, along with an ongoing refusal to make the radical policy changes necessary to properly treat soldiers and psychiatric care providers exposed to secondary post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD), Luther fears the worst for the future.

"There will be more 5 November [referencing the recent Fort Hood tragedy] attacks on fellow soldiers, and they will likely be even more drastic," he said.

"Everybody has to outdo someone, so the next are likely to be worse. Violence breeds violence. I was trained to be very violent in combat as a scout"we killed or detained Iraqis before anyone else got there. Two months ago I warned the Army's Chain of Command that before we had an attack by a soldier on other troops when they come home, we needed to make some dramatic changes."

At the time of the interview, one week after army psychiatrist Major Nidal Hasan's shooting rampage left 13 dead and over 30 wounded at Fort Hood, Luther informed IPS that in the previous three days at Fort Hood, "I've heard commanders tell soldiers requesting psychological help that they are full of crap and don't have PTSD"so if we can't implement these needed changes quickly and rapidly we are going to have more loss of life on U.S. soil by soldiers killing other soldiers."

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While not on the scale of the recent shooting incident, several other killings by soldiers have been reported at Fort Hood over the last two years.

According to official military statistics, Fort Hood already suffers the highest number of suicides among Army installations since the invasion of Iraq in 2003. While Luther believes the number is far higher, Army officials at Fort Hood admit to at least 10 suicides on the base from January to July of this year, and at least 75 "confirmed" suicides since 2003.

Several years of repeated war-zone deployments are taking their toll, as Army personnel are experiencing record rates of PTSD, depression, other mental health problems, alcohol and drug abuse, and suicides.

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DAHR JAMAIL He is author of the book Beyond the Green Zone: Dispatches from an Unembedded Journalist in Occupied Iraq. Jamail's work has been featured on National Public Radio, the Guardian, The Nation, and The Progressive. He has received many (more...)
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