The Norman Transcript

Columns

April 7, 2014

Soldiers home but not yet safe

NORMAN — March ended with this uplifting news: For the first time in seven years, no U.S. soldiers died that month in combat. Not one.

It’s a relieving statistic, suggesting that the heavy toll in lives of U.S. military intervention is coming to an end.

That would be the wrong assessment.

Because April began with this bloody gore: A soldier being treated for depression and anxiety bought a handgun, killed three other soldiers and wounded 16 at a military base in Texas. He then committed suicide.

Mental health is the new battlefield for many returning soldiers. At Fort Hood, the actions of Army Specialist Ivan Lopez might well serve as the military’s Sandy Hook Elementary School. Let’s see if enough people listen.

The Department of Veterans Affairs has estimated that 22 former members of the military commit suicide every day. Every day.

Not convinced this is a staggering crisis? Consider this: Extrapolating from that VA estimate, 1,900 soldiers have taken their own lives ... in the first three months of 2014 alone.

These deaths don’t get broadcast and splashed across the front page. Most major newspapers do not report suicides except in cases where the deaths occurred in public places, or if the deceased was a public figure.

It’s for good reason. Copycat cases are a concern, and grieving family members guard their privacy. But the lack of coverage also buries awareness of the problem.

Our soldiers are dying. And it’s happening daily on home soil, by their own hands.

The week before Ivan Lopez’s deadly rampage, 1,892 U.S. flags were stuck into the lawn between the Washington Monument and the Capitol. It was a patriotic sight, although one that didn’t garner much media attention.

The flags were placed by the Iraq and Afghanistan Veterans of America, one for each of the estimated suicides by a soldier this year.

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