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Army Desertions, Suicides, Reflect Bungling Leadership

By James Donahue

As the ugly war in Iraq drags on into its fifth consecutive year, reports of a rising number of desertions and suicides by soldiers, not only on the war front but after returning home, signal that something is very wrong.

It is not hard to determine what that something is . . . even for this civilian writer who looks at the broad picture from afar. I think we can sum it all up as follows:

1.) The war was an invasion and our forces are not defending the homeland. There never were weapons of mass destruction in Iraq and that country was not a threat to America or even its neighbors at the time our troops went in. Our troops may be patriots, and they may be well trained to follow orders, but they are not stupid. They understand that they went there on a false premise, and they see a lot of big American corporations getting rich on what has been going on in Iraq since it all started.

2.) President George W. Bush, former Secretary of Defense Donald Rumsfeld, and top military commanders plunged into the Iraq conflict without careful planning. Our military was not prepared for the insurgency and civil war that developed once Saddam Hussein's government fell. Now with too few soldiers in the field to maintain order, our government has called on the National Guard and the Army Reserves, and is extending time spent in the conflict to fill the gap. This is having a profound effect on the mental and physical health of the men and women caught up in this war.

3.) The military leadership failed to provide our fighting forces with adequate and safe equipment to protect them from roadside bombs and other assaults from insurgent forces. Consequently many of our troops are coming home as disabled veterans missing arms, legs, or suffering severe burns and head injuries leaving them scarred for life.

4.) The Bush Administration was slow to provide adequate health care for returning veterans. Recent hearings on this issue revealed that no one at the top branches of our military was prepared for the number of casualties that are coming out of this war. There is little, if any, provisions for the damaged mental state of returning soldiers, many of whom don't realize that they need help. They are calling it post traumatic stress disorder, a subtle mental state that sometimes doesn't hit these veterans until weeks or months after they return from the war front.

5.) A high number of veterans returning home after serving the military are unable to find jobs and a significant percent of them are feared homeless since they have no permanent address. The website Veterans Today suggests the high unemployment rate is "partly because most service members seriously injured are in the early stages of their military careers and possess limited transferable job skills or very little civilian work experience."

The consequences of all of this are only now beginning to strike home as the suicide statistics mount.

The Veterans Affairs Department revealed that preliminary research has found there were at least 283 suicides among veterans who left the military between the start of the war in Afghanistan in 2001 and the end of 2005. Also there were 147 troops who killed themselves in Iraq and Afghanistan since the start of the wars. This means 430 troops committed suicide during that period.

There don't seem to be statistics available as yet for suicides committed during 2006 and 2007. When they are known, we suspect the numbers will be dramatically increased or carefully covered up.

Anita Dennis, a mother of a Connecticut Iraq combat veteran who committed suicide, told a UK reporter she believes "some suicides are happening and they are not listing them as suicide as the parents are feeling specially that our children have been killed. You don't believe that we are getting true stories on it."

Desertions by soldiers caught up in the war also are on the rise. The Army recently revealed that about nine in every 1,000 soldiers deserted during the fiscal year ending Sept. 30, 2007, compared to seven for every 1,000 a year earlier. The report said overall, 4,698 soldiers deserted this year, compared to 3,301 last year.

This is the highest desertion rate since 1980, and there has been a 42 percent increase since one year ago, authorities said.

The Army defines a deserter as someone who has been absent without leave for longer than 30 days.

The Veterans Affairs office also reports a massive hike in the number of Iraq and Afghanistan war veterans now seeking treatment for post traumatic stress disorder. VA records says mental health has become the second largest area of illness affecting former war veterans. The number of mental health cases among veterans increased from 63,767 on June 30, 2006, to 100,580 on June 30, 2007.

Another grim record: The US Bureau of Labor Statistics says that for the first three quarters of 2004, nearly 15 percent of veterans aged 20-24 are jobless. That was three times the national average. Statistics for 2005-2007 may be even more dismal since even more veterans from these two conflicts are out on the streets and possibly out of work and many of them homeless.

On the warfront, the general morale of the troops is also unusually low. This is linked to the extra long and repeated tours of duty placed on them, the lack of adequate protection from enemy attacks, and the lack of direction as to just who the enemy is or how to fight a war that cannot be won.

A recent report in the website AlterNet quoted Iraq war veterans as saying that morale among veterans in Iraq is so poor "many are simply parking their Humvees and pretending to be on patrol." The practice has been dubbed among the troops as "search and avoid" missions.

This veteran said he participated in some 300 patrols. "We were hit by so many roadside bombs we became incredibly demoralized, so we decided the only way we wouldn't be blown up was to avoid driving around all the time."