Veterans' Suicides and Selective Conscientious Objection | Sojourners

Veterans' Suicides and Selective Conscientious Objection

banner-selective-conscientious-objectionThis is the fourth installment of a series Logan Mehl-Laituri is writing for God's Politics focusing on selective conscientious objection. Read his first, second, and third installments here.

This week we celebrate Veterans Day. For me, it is a tragic holiday. I know many do not share that perspective. Sometimes it is easy to overlook the fact that veterans are a troubled minority, living sometimes in heartbreaking silence about the pain we bear for the things we have done or left undone in combat. When I came home in February of 2005, I was bombarded by banners thanking me for my service; service which, just days prior in the streets of Mosul, had left people dead or wounded. What was I being thanked for?

That moral ambiguity has left me and other veterans with deep moral questions about our service. Some of my compatriots, even my own team leader (a non commissioned officer) would go on to attempt suicide because the ambiguity was so overpowering. Another NCO on my team turned to crystal methamphetamine, but lower enlisted guys could only afford alcohol. We were not given the opportunity to grieve what we had done; our moral consciences were as scarred as our minds and our bodies. We were not allowed to heal properly, and society does not know how to deal with us.

The moral injury I experienced in my own unit was a mere fraction of what was then only an epidemic-to-be. That year, in 2005, CBS acquired suicide data from 45 States regarding the numbers of suicides among veterans. (The Veterans Administration lied about tracking the data.) The results were, and remain, staggering; 17 veterans successfully committed suicide every single calendar day. That is worse than any other demographic on record, and was the worst rate in our nation's history.

Since then, we have consistently broken national records for soldier and veteran suicides. For active duty troops, more have killed themselves this year than have been killed in Iraq or Afghanistan. The rate of suicide among veterans increased 26 percent for veterans ages 18 to 29. I am certainly no statistician, but that seems to suggest that something like 21 OIF and OEF veterans killed themselves yesterday. And will do so today. And tomorrow. And the next day