Iraq vet: We're losing 'more soldiers to suicide than to al Qaeda'
The Army's suicide rate is the highest it has been in three decades, and a week-long series of articles at Salon.com has been highlighting what it calls "habitual mistreatment behind the preventable deaths."
Paul Rieckhoff, the founder and executive director of Iraq and Afghanistan Veterans of America, told MSNBC's Rachel Maddow on Thursday, "In January, we lost approximately 24 soldiers in the Army to suicide. That's more folks than we lost in combat. ... We lost more soldiers to suicide than to al Qaeda."
"If we lost that many soldiers to an enemy weapon system, the entire country would be outraged," Rieckhoff continued. "The Pentagon would be scrambling to do something about it. We need the same level of urgency around these suicides."
Rieckhoff's group has been lobbying Congress this week to do more for veterans needs. "We took dozens of veterans from around the country," he told Maddow proudly. "We met with over a hundred lawmakers, we held two press events. ... We highlighted ... the need for mandatory mental health counseling and we called for advance funding of the VA."
Rieckhoff said that there's bipartisan support in Congress for such funding, which is critical because "every year the VA budget is late, and VA's around the country are forced to ration care." However, there's also a critical shortage of mental health counselors.
"This is a place where President Obama can step up," Rieckhoff remarked. "He could issue a national call to service and say, 'If you are a qualified mental health care professional, your country needs you. Help our soldiers, help our veterans. It doesn't matter how you stand on the war. You can step up and make a difference here.'"
"Troops alone are not the answer [to Afghanistan]," he added. "It's not an antidote to violence. You don't just drop 30,000 troops in, wave a magic wand and call it democracy, and make it look like New Jersey."
This video is from MSNBC's The Rachel Maddow Show, broadcast Feb. 12, 2009.
Download video via RawReplay.com