Mass Killing Demonstrates Need to Address War’s Toll on Troops

On Sunday a US soldier murdered 16 Afghani civilians, mostly women and children, after leaving his base early in the morning.  The BBC reported that, “The White House voiced ‘deep concern’ and Nato-led forces in Afghanistan promised a rapid inquiry.”

Early reports say that the soldier (whose name has not been released) had a nervous breakdown.  We won’t know if that is true for a while, but we do know that many soldiers do have breakdowns and suffer from other demons.

According to a study released a few days ago by the US Army Public Health Command, there was an “80 percent increase in suicides among Army personnel between 2004 and 2008. The rise parallels increasing rates of depression, anxiety and other mental health conditions in soldiers.”  Soldiers are frequently punished instead of treated for their mental health problems.

President Obama has called the mass killing “deeply saddening” and it is.  A senseless loss of life brings unbearable pain to those who have lost their loved ones.  But the other deeply saddening fact is that this soldier will go to trial, and he will probably go to jail, but no one will address the rate of dangerous mental health conditions that have reached a breaking point for our troops. This is not only pain felt at a distance.  We have seen mass killings by US soldiers on American soil as well, most notably the Fort Hood massacre in 2009.

In addition to higher rates of suicide, veterans battle drug addiction, domestic violence and post-traumatic stress disorder. When they arrive back in the US, they are greeted with sub-par health care at best and often struggle to find a job. And that doesn’t even address the physical aches and pains that many soldiers bring home.

How much sadness does it take to equal an ounce of action? President Obama said the attack is not representative of “the exceptional character of our military and the respect that the United States has for the people of Afghanistan.”

If Obama really respected our soldiers and the Afghani people, then he would end this war now.