More costs of war: Suicides, mental anguish
By ANN WRIGHT
Seven months ago, in December, 2011, Brian Arredondo, age 24, hanged himself in a shed in his mother’s backyard. Brian was the brother of U.S. Marine Corps Lance Corporal Alexander Arredondo, who was killed in Iraq in 2004. For seven years Brian had had difficulties dealing with the death of his brother.
Brian, like so many military brothers, sisters, spouses, children and parents, fell into the depths of depression following the death of his brother.
These difficulties in coping with his brother’s death played out in Brian in his depression, dropping out of school, using alcohol and drugs, being in and out of drug rehab facilities, in continuing incidents with police for disorderly conduct and finally in suicide.
After the death of their son Alex in Iraq, Brian’s father Carlos Arredondo and his stepmother Melida travelled the country reminding the public of those dying in America’s wars on Iraq and Afghanistan-Americans, Iraqis and Afghans. Brian had joined them at Veterans for Peace events and at Occupy Boston. The Arredondos are now embarked on a mission to better understand the suicides that are occurring in military families.
At the national Veterans for Peace (VFP) conference in Miami, Florida, on August 9, 2012, Carlos told VFP members that virtually each time they have spoken at public events about Brian’s suicide, after the program, a member of the audience will tell them that they have had someone in their family who has attempted suicide or committed suicide. The Arredondos say that from their first speaking engagements following Brian’s suicide, that they have found an epidemic of suicides and mental trauma in military families.
We know from statistics kept by the U.S. military, Veterans Affairs and local law enforcement officials, that 18 veterans a day commit suicide.
Brian’s death represents an unknown number of members of military families who have committed suicide and the United States military is not attempting to keep track of this aspect of the costs of war on families of military personnel
In 2010, Deborah Mullen, the wife of the former chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, said at the Military Health System annual conference, that she was shocked that military family member suicides are not being tracked by the military. She said “…we are still discovering, still revealing, fissures and cracks in the family support system.”
Mullen said that “military families, not unlike our troops, experience the same depression, anxiety, sleeplessness, and headaches. They break into cold sweats … lose concentration … suffer panic attacks … and come to dread contact with the outside world. Some lapse into what is known as “anticipatory grief.”
As one spouse put it, “We’re grieving as if they’re already dead, and they’re not.”
Mullen added, “As a result, many spouses are unable even to get out of bed – to get dressed, prepare meals, or leave the house. Some won’t even get their children off to school, leaving the care of little ones to the hands of older siblings. In 2009 alone, 300,000 prescriptions for psychiatric drugs were provided to military dependents under the age of 18. Some are no doubt warranted, but I worry that we don’t fully understand the long-term consequences of these medications.”
Ann Wright served 29 years in the U.S. Army/Army Reserves and retired as a colonel. She was a U.S. diplomat for 16 years and served in Nicaragua, Grenada, Somalia, Uzbekistan, Kyrgyzstan, Sierra Leone, Micronesia, Afghanistan and Mongolia. She resigned in 2003 in opposition to the Iraq War. She is a member of Veterans for Peace.
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