Suicide Obsession

For those obsessed with the rate of military suicides, here’s an interesting statistic: Army National Guard soldiers in a civilian status are killing themselves at twice the rate they did in 2009.

Who knew? Who tracks this?

USA Today reports, “Eighty-six non-active-duty Guard soldiers have killed themselves in the first 10 months of 2010, compared with 48 such suicides in all of 2009.”

At the same time those on this macabre suicide watch have determined suicides on the active duty side for the Army as well as the Marine Corps seem to be leveling off.

The story dutifully reports guardsmen face what other civilians face – potential job losses and other financial and relationship stresses. Other factors may include substance abuse and possible combat-related injuries including mild brain trauma.

The Army has fallen all over itself to ensure its soldiers have access to medical care beyond congressional and media reproach. But, the Guard guy in the community is not the Army. He is a citizen soldier, with the emphasis on “citizen,” and he or she is a state asset under the governor. The Guard is outside the Army safety net, unless a unit is activated.

Does the Army have an obligation to this group? Magic Eight Ball says, “No.” The article neglects to mention the crucial difference between the National Guard and the U.S. Army’s active component. Guard suicides would be a state issue, (there are 50 states, count ’em) if it is an issue at all.

What obligation does the state have to its guardsmen? When they are Joe Average Citizen, little if any. A Guardsman is paid for drills, but does not qualify for medical benefits unless activated. Help for the guardsmen in question would fall on civilian medical insurance or their own dime.

This suicide obsession, while provocative, has been a red herring. The numbers are small and the decedents seem to have little in common except that most are male.

Answers may lie in studies for the overall population kept by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, which unfortunately seem to lag by three and four years. A perennial frustration for the researcher.

Guard suicides … Non issue?

Recent Posts