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Start Winning the War on Military Suicide by Ending the War in Afghanistan

Floor Speech

By:
Date:
Location: Washington, DC

Ms. WOOLSEY. Mr. Speaker, more than 2,000 U.S. troops have been killed in the line of duty in Afghanistan. Unfortunately, that dramatically understates the human cost of this war, a war that is now nearly 11 years old.

A recent Time magazine cover story details the silent killer of our brave servicemembers--the tragically high suicide rate among Iraq and Afghanistan veterans and other members of the service. The article describes how one Army helicopter pilot, who had flown 70 missions in Iraq over 9 months--70 missions over 9 months--waited on the phone for 45 minutes to speak to the Pentagon crisis line when he was in severe distress. The last communication his wife received from him was a text in which he said, ``Still on hold.'' Several hours later, she found him in their bedroom with a fatal gunshot wound to the neck.

A second victim, an Army doctor who wasn't deployed to Iraq or Afghanistan, wrote an email to his wife minutes before hanging himself. It read:

Please always tell my children how much I love them, and most importantly, never, ever let them find out how I died.

Mr. Speaker, we can no longer deny the devastating mental health impact of repeated deployments, of continued exposure to explosions, horror, carnage and destruction. Of course, in an institution like the U.S. military that values courage and toughness, there's a reluctance to admit to depression and anxiety.

Sometimes that manifests itself in the worst possible ways. For example, one Army major general wrote an angry diatribe on his blog about the selfishness of troops who killed themselves or were leaving others to ``clean up their mess.'' He admonished:

Act like an adult, and deal with your real-life problems like the rest of us.

It's about time, Mr. Speaker, that we lost that attitude because we're losing brave Americans at a terrifying clip. In fact, according to the Time article, more soldiers have taken their own lives than have died in Afghanistan. While veterans make up 10 percent of the adult population, they account for 20 percent of the suicides.

We are starting to see more awareness of this problem, thank Heavens. Secretary Panetta says the right things, but it's time to back up rhetoric. It's time to back it up with more resources because the fact is only 4 percent of the Pentagon's medical budget is devoted to mental health, about the same amount that we spend on the Afghan war every day and a half. We spend $2 billion a year to treat servicemembers suffering from psychological trauma, but we spend $10 billion a month on the war that is the root of much of that trauma in the first place.

Even if the Afghanistan war ended tomorrow, Mr. Speaker, so much damage is already done. We would still be left with a huge crisis that will require more resolve than we are seemingly prepared to muster. I would expect every Member who has enthusiastically supported this war to just as eagerly support what it takes to fight the suicide epidemic this war has caused. It's
time to stop the bleeding to make sure our heroes are removed from the conflict that is inflicting so much damage. We can start winning the war on suicide by ending the war in Afghanistan.

Let's bring our troops home now.


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