After fighting on foreign battlefields, too many members of the U.S. military have been unable to successfully fight their inner demons. For the first time since the Pentagon began tracking suicides in 2001, more service personnel took their own lives than died last year in combat in Afghanistan. The Defense Department and the Veterans Administration need to do more to identify and treat troops struggling to cope with the stress of repeated deployments and the uncertain prospects of returning to civilian life.
Suicides across all branches of the military hit a record 349 in 2012, compared to 295 combat deaths in Afghanistan. There are many factors contributing to the suicides. Repeated deployments, posttraumatic stress syndrome, traumatic brain injury, divorce, substance abuse and unemployment all make life a daunting challenge for active-duty military and discharged veterans.
The American military does a superb job in training those who serve in uniform to do their duty. But too many troops struggling to cope with the psychological effects of more than a decade of war are falling by the wayside. The Defense Department and the VA need a more aggressive commitment to identify those in trouble and quickly take steps to intervene. The legacy of Iraq and Afghanistan ought not to be that those who so honorably served and survived on the battlefield are more at risk off it.