Tuesday, June 10, 2008

Obama Asks SecDef About Military Suicide Rate

Thomas Sowell calls is "cocky ignorance." After noting a letter to the Secretary of Defense on the matter of military suicide rates, which have seen a spike of late, Sowell's notes that Obama's tone is more like a President than a U.S. Senator. But that really is of little consequence, most Senators have an overblown sense of their importance and perhaps Obama can be forgiven given is relatively new status as nominee.

But what Sowell calls him on cannot be forgiven:
All this sounds very plausible, as so many other things that Senator Obama says sound plausible. But, like so many of those other things, it will not stand up under scrutiny.

What has been widely publicized in the media is that suicides among American troops have gone up. What has not been widely publicized is that this higher suicide rate is still not as high as the suicide rate among demographically comparable civilians.

No one needs to be reminded that suicide is a serious matter, whether among soldiers or civilians. But the media have managed to create the impression that it is military service overseas which is the cause of suicides among American troops, when civilians of the same ages and other demographic characteristics are committing suicide at an even higher rate at home.

Moreover, this is not the first time that military service overseas has been portrayed in the media as the cause of problems that are worse in the civilian population at home.
Yes, suicides among military members are a tragic problem and one that needs to be addressed. But even as Sowell pointed out, it is not nearly as bad as it seems.

Let's take a look at a few reasons why the suicide rate is far lower in the military than in a comparable civilian population.

First, military members have a built in support network--the members of their unit. The unit personnel and their officers see them every day--particularly in a deployed situation. They eat, sleep, live and work together 24/7. When and if someone's mood shifts dramatically in a short period of time, people notice and if the mood becomes too dark, people notice and often help can be had in relatively short order. Conversely, a civilian who is not close to their co-workers (or works largely alone) and has few friends can be overlooked.

Second, the military works very had to ensure the health and well-being of its members. To a large extent the this is in the self-interest of the rest of the unit, but serves the individual well to boot.

Third, even if one is not religiously inclined, a military member can speak to a chaplain at anytime, for any reason and for the most part confidentially--unless that service members represents a danger to themselves or others. The chaplain is nearby, readily available and because they too are military, the chaplain can understand the pressures of military life far better than other resources.

Fourth, the military in the past several decades has learned that mental health awareness is necessary and programs are available.

Many of these features are not available or not as easily available, without cost, to a civilian. Thus, where a civilian may have to pay for mental health services, even a small co-pay, such services are free and easily found for the military.

Yes, the Pentagon should investigate the spike in suicides amoung military members, as it is a troubling trend. But Senator Obama does not need to push the panic button yet.

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