Navy Admiral Mike Mullen (ret.), former chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, told an audience in Aspen this weekend that military has “18 vets a day who are killing themselves in the United States” due to the incomprehensible stresses of military life, which he said are compounded by a public that is increasingly disconnected from the ongoing wars.
Military suicides rose dramatically after the start of the Iraq war, according to a recent study by the Army’s Public Health Command. That same study found that in 2008, 1 in 5 U.S. soldiers voluntarily submitted to a mental health evaluation, “implying a prevalent public health problem.” Since then, the military’s suicide rate has continued to climb, hitting a 10-year high in 2012, even though U.S. forces are almost entirely withdrawn from Iraq.
As bad as that sounds, it gets worse: Those figures only account for active duty soldiers, and not soldiers who have returned to private life. If Mullen is correct, then the problem of military suicides is even worse than previously known.
“If I’m a 5-year-old boy or girl in the family of one of these deploying units for the army whose average deployment was 12 months at a time, and my dad or mom – but mostly my dad – has deployed at this pace, I’m now 15 or 16 years old, and my dad has been gone three, four or five times,” Mullen explained during an appearance at the Aspen Ideas Festival last weekend. “And my whole conscious life, from the time when I was 5 and I started to figure out that there was something out there, my whole conscious life has been at war. The United States has never, never experienced that before. And we see incredible stresses on families.”
President Barack Obama’s former top military adviser’s response was triggered by a question about offering more compensation to soldiers in exchange for their sacrifices, essentially converting the military into a mercenary-style force instead of a volunteer army.
That possibility seemed to disturb Mullen greatly.
“Indicative of [those stresses] is the incredible suicide rate we have on the active side, which is even despite all the efforts of leadership to contain it, is in the army this year higher now than it was a year ago,” he said. “And another statistic that hasn’t gotten much traction is that we’ve got 18 vets a day who are killing themselves in the United States.”
Mullen added that the military has become less present to the American people thanks in part to an all-volunteer force that is paid in salaries and benefits to fight and die on the president’s orders.
“But, I do worry that it’s just, ‘Please go off and fight our wars, we don’t want to be bothered’ — that the whole country isn’t in,” he said. “We’re not there, but at some point we cross the line where, essentially, it’s not unlike mercenary forces from other countries… which may be another option. I think the United States of America, without its military being a direct output of its people’s will, and understanding what that is, is a disaster for us in the long run.”
This video was published to YouTube on July 1, 2012.
Stephen C. Webster is the senior editor of Raw Story, and is based out of Austin, Texas. He previously worked as the associate editor of The Lone Star Iconoclast in Crawford, Texas, where he covered state politics and the peace movement’s resurgence at the start of the Iraq war. Webster has also contributed to publications such as True/Slant, Austin Monthly, The Dallas Business Journal, The Dallas Morning News, Fort Worth Weekly, The News Connection and others. Follow him on Twitter at @StephenCWebster.
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