Eight military veterans killed themselves in South Carolina from October 2010 to September 2011. Nationally, a veteran commits suicide every 80 minutes, and more of our Iraq and Afghanistan soldiers have killed themselves than have been killed in battle. Our veterans have the highest suicide rate among any demographic group.
Don’t blame the veterans. Don’t blame just the government either. It is a national shame and a disgrace to non-veterans.
Why is this suicide rate so high? Our so-called volunteer military means 1 percent of our young people serve while the rest stay home, oblivious to their sacrifices. We send these “volunteers” on four, five, six deployments to war zones in Iraq and Afghanistan (in Vietnam, we had a draft force that was required to serve one year maximum in a war zone); this would make a basket case out of anyone. Our psychologically fragile veterans come home to a country that is indifferent to their service.
The toll that war takes on our all-voluntary military is just one of many reasons we need to reinstate the draft for all 18- to 25-year old American men and women.
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They will learn discipline, teamwork and tolerance for people from different backgrounds, and our nation would have fewer wars if all families were exposed to military service.
Over time, mandatory service would produce a better Congress. In 1970, more than 70 percent of the members of Congress were veterans; today it’s only 15 percent. This makes Congress too happy to authorize wars and too eager to give the military-industrial complex whatever it wants ($600 toilet seats, $10 billion obsolete weapon systems, etc.). Men and women in Congress won’t tell defense contractors “no” because they are ashamed of themselves for sending other Americans to fight their wars; yielding to greedy defense contractors makes them feel patriotic.
Military service could become a common experience that would unite Americans, as it does Israelis, making all Americans feel that they belonged and that all others in this country shared their experiences and were on their side.
That’s the long-term way to curtail veteran suicides. Short-term, how about all Americans (including our government) reaching out to these veterans before they get desperate?