Former Top DoD Officer Mike Mullen Speaks Out on Veterans Suicide Epidemic and “Incredible Stresses on Families”

“We’ve Got 18 Vets a Day Who Are Killing Themselves in the United States”, July 2, 2012

Navy Admiral Mike Mullen (ret.), former chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, told an audience in Aspen this weekend that the military has “18 vets a day who are killing themselves in the United States” due to the incomprehensible stresses of military life, which he said are compounded by a public that is increasingly disconnected from the ongoing wars.
Military suicides rose dramatically after the start of the Iraq war, according to a recent study by the Army’s Public Health Command. That same study found that in 2008, 1 in 5 U.S. soldiers voluntarily submitted to a mental health evaluation, “implying a prevalent public health problem.”

Admiral Mike Mullen served as the senior U.S. Military officer inside the Pentagon from 2007-2011.

Since then, the military’s suicide rate has continued to climb, hitting a 10-year high in 2012, even though U.S. forces are almost entirely withdrawn from Iraq.
As bad as that sounds, it gets worse: Those figures only account for active duty soldiers, and not soldiers who have returned to private life. If Mullen is correct, then the problem of military suicides is even worse than previously known.
“If I’m a 5-year-old boy or girl in the family of one of these deploying units for the army whose average deployment was 12 months at a time, and my dad or mom – but mostly my dad – has deployed at this pace, I’m now 15 or 16 years old, and my dad has been gone three, four or five times,” Mullen explained during an appearance at the Aspen Ideas Festival last weekend.

“And my whole conscious life, from the time when I was 5 and I started to figure out that there was something out there, my whole conscious life has been at war. The United States has never, never experienced that before. And we see incredible stresses on families.”

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Watch video of Mike Mullen’s speech about military and veterans’ suicide epidemic:


2 Responses

  1. The accuracy of saying that 18 veterans a day commit suicide is beyond misleading and I suspect nothing less than a lazy-feeble attempt to give the public a “number”. It seems beyond incredible to me that reputable news agencies still cite this figure-which is based only on an outdated “guesstimate” used by the VA. In simple terms-the VA has based this very dated figure mostly on reports from the 16 states that report this information. There are more flaws in how this guesstimate has come to be the officially touted number than there are gnats in the south on a hot summer’s day. And besides just being a number no one, or few people, seem to question it is at best contributing to ignorance of the American public. It is as flawed as both our military branches and VA mental health/suicide attempts to proactively address ever increasing numbers of troops and veterans who are battling mental health injuries, as well as those who have lost all hope and ended their own lives.

    The fact that there is no uniformed consistent reporting system for these issues among each branch, tracking of those no longer in service, as well as the impact on the family members who too suffer secondary trauma, and co-morbid mental health disorders is just another indication that at best we have done little to actually help those who are at risk, but done a fantastic job of funding a booming research industrial complex.

    It is sadly much like the treatise written by the WWI Marine General Smedly Butler in his “War is a Racket” only this time the human carnage , cuased not by enemy bullets, by America’s need to fund mechanical industry-but the mental health/pharmaceutical industry helped and encouraged most by expert military mental health officers who’s names are tied to the research dollars-and have most certainly themselves benefitted handsomely to the detriment of those who have and are serving.

    • Thank you for your input and view on the “18” figure. There is very little critical or analytical examination of many of the data cited in published public material related to the military and veterans suicide issue.

      It seems that DoD and VA enjoy some level protection from the absence of systematic statistical collections. The result is “good guessing” by anyone who seeks to make known publicly the true numbers behind these self-inflicted deaths. For example, neither DoD nor the VA make any legitimate attempt to release data on members of the inactive reserve suicides … this data is tracked and available.

      It has either not been requested, or the agencies have refused to release it.

      As for reserve and guard suicides, these known data are also hidden from public release. The exception seems to be with the Army Reserve and Guard; they have freely reported their suicides openly it appears.

      From all indications, DoD and VA both actively hide and/or withhold suicide data until they are forced by federal litigation to release it … usually by means of the Freedom of Information Act.

      Congress has shown little interest in demanding a full accounting of suicide data. In fact, Congress, DoD and VA have collectively talked big about the issue, but the fact is suicides continue at record pace in every demographic that is currently tracked and reported … and that would just be among active duty population.

      All other categories are just “guesses.”

      Thank you again for your viewpoint. I hope leaders in VA and DoD will listen to voices such as yours, and someday be honest, and fully report the data they have; and where they are missing data, commit to collecting it.

      Sadly, this will not likely happen anytime soon.


      PS: Due to the current poor accounting practices, the “18 a day” may actually be a low estimate. It was not clear if that was your point, but the point should be clearly stated either way.

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