With quite a few years into the Iraq and Afghanistan wars, the US Army continues to send soldiers with mental, psychological, and physical injuries back to serve in the wars even at times ignoring medical advice and the classification of soldiers being declared as nondeployable. The conflicts in Afghanistan and Iraq have entailed heavy stress on the soldiers mainly due to the lengthy and repeated deployment in these countries. The situation has become very alarming given the incidence of an increasing number of soldiers being sent to war despite being in crutches and slings. Several are sent although they need medicines to survive through the nights. They have to take antidepressants, pain, and sleeping medications obviously with dangerous consequences. In this context, it becomes necessary for the government to look into the seriousness of the practice in bringing relief to soldiers who defend the nation in maintaining the country’s honor and national pride.
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Very alarming is the fact that the suicide rate amongst soldiers has shown a steep increase although it is historically known that during times of war the number of soldiers committing suicides while stationed overseas declines considerably. Against the suicide rate of 9.8 per 100,000 in 2001 amongst soldiers on active overseas duty, there was an all-time increase to 17.5 suicides for every 100,000 in 2006 amongst soldiers deployed overseas (Erin Emery et al, 2008). It is known that in meeting the pressure to send additional troops to Iraq in 2007, there was a drastic increase in the number of soldiers deployed, for which the Army reasoned that it was necessary to stabilize the national government and to reduce sectarian violence.
The army did not expect such a high number of soldiers to commit suicide and was unprepared to tackle the high incidence of post-traumatic anxiety disorders amongst the soldiers, primarily because the wars in Afghanistan and Iraq have been prolonged beyond what was initially expected. Most of the army postings do not provide adequate counseling facilities and soldiers that suffer from psychosomatic problems have often complained of being stigmatized by their bosses. According to a study conducted by Col. Elspeth Cameron Ritchie, one of the top psychiatrists with the army, adequate measures are not being taken to measure, check and take care of soldiers who suffer from psychosomatic problems (Dana Priest, 2008). Significant progress needs to be made to improve the mental health care system within the armed forces.
Given the unprecedented demand from the simultaneous wars that are being fought, the army continues to send back drug-dependent and injured soldiers to the war front at times against the recommendation of the physician. The spending of the defense department on drugs, sleeping tablets, anti-depressants, and narcotics has increased considerably. Soldiers have often complained that their injuries are ignored and they are sent overseas after being given medication. The high increase in the number of suicides amongst soldiers is primarily due to the pressure of multiple deployments on the war front.
There is an emergent need for the government to consider and alter the deployment policy of soldiers to overseas assignments given the extreme physical and psychological hardships they have to bear in foreign locations. The soldiers’ plight is evident from the kind of interviews they have given in suffering from constant physical pain and not being given appropriate medical therapy. Yet they were required to perform duties that violated the duty restrictions prescribed for such medical profiles. The biggest irony comes from the fact that army officers in being competent to decide who goes to war, do not consider medical advice, and take away soldiers to overseas war zones in stark violation of the prescribed rules. Army commanders take the plea that if soldiers with medical problems are taken abroad they are assigned duties in keeping with their physical condition and limitations. Although the commanding generals have said repeatedly that soldiers who are incapable of performing in the war front are sent back, is not entirely true.
Some soldiers who voiced their problems preferred to speak anonymously in fear of retribution from their officers but all that they claimed was corroborated from the army records and medical observations provided by their families. Soldiers are known to have walked through the nights with canes to relieve themselves from the persistent pain in their knees. Some who were not supposed to stand for over fifteen minutes in a day had to do so for twelve hours as gunners. The plight of soldiers deputed for overseas duties is unending but many of them continue to be sent for long periods of unwarranted struggle and hardship. Out of the 1.6 million soldiers who have been deputed to Afghanistan and Iraq, 34% have served a minimum of two tours and with each tour the risk of injury increases. Because of multiple deputations, the chances become greater to be sent back due to psychological and physical injury thus proving to be a negative mark in the soldier’s career.
Such practices were never adopted during the Vietnam War and it is for the first time that research has indicated that the more a soldier goes through distressing circumstances, the more problems he experiences. During the Vietnam war if a soldier did not wish to serve more than the stipulated 12 month period he was allowed to return and if more soldiers were required a larger number of other people were deployed. But in the present scenario, it is the army that is doing most of the fighting and it has a smaller number of soldiers. Army data has shown that so far 270,000 soldiers have served at least two tours in Afghanistan or Iraq (Erin Emery et al, 2008).
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After several years into the war, the army has made some attempts to help in managing the increasing number of soldiers who have psychological and physical problems. But this is not all because soldiers who are deployed more than once have to undergo extreme mental and physical hardships, which ought to be given some human consideration. It is high time that the army too adopted some element in its policies of providing a minimum level of human dignity and rights to its soldiers. They also deserve humane treatment because they too are citizens of the country who have the right to a better life.
Dana Priest, Soldier Suicides at Record Level, 2008, Washington Post.
Erin Emery and David Olinger, The Battle Within, 2008, The Denver Post.