As we remember our fallen soldiers on Memorial Day, I also want to take time to remember the service men and women, both active duty and veterans, who die by suicide every year – estimated at 22 a day.
Military suicide is a complex issue. Many assume the high suicide rate is due to the stresses of war. While that may be true for many, a third or more are done by those who have never been deployed.
It is difficult, if not impossible, to pinpoint the “why” of the high suicide rate in the military. Among active duty service members, young men age 18-24 seem to be most at risk. Many married young and have financial or personal problems coupled with the stress of military life. While help is available, many service members worry about disclosing psychological problems and how it might affect career advancement.
Veterans are at the highest risk in the year after they leave service – about 1½ to 2 times as likely to kill themselves as those on active duty. Why? Sebastian Junger argues in his book, Tribe: On Homecoming and Belonging (Twelve, 2016), that the lack of community or shared experience on the “outside” is a driving force in the high suicide rate. He notes that in the nation of Israel, where military service is compulsory, the suicide rate is very low in comparison. Conventional wisdom says we should treat veterans as heroes, but Junger posits that it only alienates them further – that what veterans need most is to feel like they belong.
StoryCorps’ Military Voices Initiative records stories from members of the U.S. military and their families. The story of Army Spc. Robert Joseph Allen who took his own life while serving in the U.S. military in 2012 is one of those stories. Let us remember all of our fallen veterans this Memorial Day.