Advocacy / Veterans News

The Unacceptable Cost of War


From a military perspective, America’s longest war ended August 30, 2021, when the final Air Force transport plane left the Kabul airport runway with the last remaining troop contingent. While post-mission work will continue for some time in the wake of a chaotic exit, the nation now faces a period of reflection as the end result of the 20-year Global War on Terrorism is weighed against the enormous sacrifice of life and the stunning financial investments made.

Most telling in this period of reflection is the sobering fact that over 30,000 active duty service members and veterans who served in the wars and deployments following the 9/11 terror attacks are estimated to have died by suicide. The U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs reports in its 2020 National Suicide Prevention Annual Report that 17.6 veterans take their own lives each day, a rate that has grown six percent since measurement began shortly after 9/11. Boston University’s Cost of War Research Series, in their recent “High Suicide Rates among United States Service Members and Veterans of the Post-9/11 War,” put it succinctly with this closing comment: That is a cost of war we cannot accept.

What’s Driving This Tragic Situation?

Historically, the rate of suicides across the veteran population mirrored that of the U.S. population, where the suicide rate statistically coincided with the overall growth in population. With respect to the veteran community, however, a much different picture has emerged over the past two decades. For veterans, the overall rate of suicide has grown despite a steady decrease in the size of the veteran population.

The Boston University study shines an intense light on the unique characteristics of the Global War on Terror and how these distinctions, some of which are similar to the Vietnam War, might appear to lead to suicidal tendencies among those engaged in the military. Specifically, the study notes that “Active service member suicide rates have grown during the Global War on Terror to surpass any service member suicide rates since before World War II.”

So, what are the differences? Here’s where public perceptions come into play. Both the Vietnam War and the war in Afghanistan have been branded by public skepticism and either an attitude of disapproval—as in the Vietnam War—or indifference—as in the case of the Global War on Terrorism in its waning years. WW II veterans returned to an endearing public and a national sense of patriotism, while Vietnam and Afghanistan veterans face a public often dubious regarding the merits of the conflicts in which they served.

There can be no question that public perception affects the mental attitude of military veterans, in many cases turning a sense of pride in service into a loss of purpose and a questioning of the enduring value of their service. The consequence can be a sense of despair that adds to the level of post-traumatic stress analogous to war zone combat, resulting in elevated suicidal tendencies.

Of course, there are other factors that differentiate the war scene of the past two decades from earlier history. Among these are the sheer length of the Global War on Terror, which until just now has been referred to as America’s “never-ending war,” the differences in combat associated with the menace of new and more diabolical war tools like improvised explosive devices (IEDs) and the corresponding rise in traumatic brain injuries (TBIs), and the advances in medical treatment allowing for extended duty tours, to cite a few.

The Road Forward

Stemming the tide of veteran suicide is a complex undertaking. While that certainly is an understatement, it’s widely recognized—by the Veterans Health Administration and others—that the pathway to battling this epidemic lies in local, regional, and national efforts to implement a public health approach to end veteran suicide. Through a combination of clinical and community interventions aimed at identifying best suicide prevention care practices, advancing the appropriate clinical practices to deal with veterans’ needs, and promoting cross-agency collaborations and community partnerships designed to engage many parties in addressing the problem, the approach represents a broad undertaking.

The Association of Mature American Citizens (AMAC), through its non-profit AMAC Action and AMAC Foundation entities, is proud to be playing a role in this community intervention process. Both of these AMAC affiliates have taken an aggressive stance in promoting awareness of the veteran suicide epidemic, with many news releases and general articles addressing the issue. Included in these efforts has been the assembly of components of AMAC’s Veterans 2021 Initiative launched last year, most notably the creation of an online, searchable database of programs, services, and general information of importance to the veteran community and the initial steps toward what will be a networking initiative among key Veteran Services Organizations (VSOs) serving the needs veterans.

American Legion national commander Paul E. Dillard, in describing his theme for 2021-2022 of “No Veteran Left Behind,” provided this message “There are many consequences for a veteran who is left behind, Isolation, denied benefits, lost opportunity, lack of decent housing or employment are just a few. But the most tragic outcome for a veteran left behind is suicide.”

Aside from the sheer loss of American treasure, veteran suicide is indeed a cost of war we cannot accept.

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Russ Saunders
1 year ago

I’m a combat veteran of Vietnam of 2 one year tours , one year with 4th inf div. In the central highlands ’67-’68 and one year in the ASHAU Valley, ’69, known for the battle of Dong ap bia aka, hamburger hill. When I returned in 1970 I heard of many suicides of my fellow veterans. Have no idea how many died that way and now all of these guys from the Afghanistan theater killing themselves is just tragic, 17 to 20 every day. It’s just so sad. War is hell. Some of the massacres men have seen drive them to the edge then the devil takes over. I’m so sorry for these heroes that fought for a cause then shunned and ignored, and taken for granted by American media, government and the people. God rest there souls.

1 year ago

Perhaps I got the wrong impression but I thought this article was about suicide and suicide prevention. The content of the comments to this article tells the story – we don’t want to face the issue because of numerous personal and emotional reasons. It’s a very sensitive issue to face and come to grips with. It’s real and isn’t going away just because we refuse to address it, change the conversation to something we’re more comfortable with or to something we understand better.
Stop thumping your chest and dancing around the issue – get educated on how to address this issue and actually ask – are you thinking about harming yourself or someone else? And if the answer is yes help that person get professional help. This is somewhere any of us can make a difference and do something that can actually help save a life.

1 year ago

SOLUTION……. let’s now war anymore.

1 year ago

As one once said: War is hell. There are few winners in a war, however the WAY that this spineless “leader” left Afghanistan is shameful, (just ask many of our allies) especially to all those and their families who have sacrificed SO much. Many veterans of this war will face emotional and mental scars as they wonder why they had to sacrifice and ended up losing anyway, similar to Vietnam. Now the ultimate question for America is, what are we willing to stand and even die for? If we are so comfortable and content to just EXIST letting the government “protect” us, we will give in to all the evil that is engulfing us. Just ask the women and children in Afghanistan if America made a difference. The war on terror is NOT over and never will be. We may very well be “fighting” this war on our OWN shores with all the un-vetted “immigrants” that continue to invade our country. Leadership DOES matter and right now we have none. Only God can help us now. Pray hard.

1 year ago

War, war, war,……wouldn’t it be wonderful is there is no war. Fat chance, too many people are looking for absolute power and of course, money, money, money. The only thing that keeps me having faith is that eventually all will go down, down, down. Power and money doesn’t go well with our Lord and Savior.

Harold Perkins
1 year ago

The democrats left Afghanistan exactly in the manor of their choosing. They wanted a huge defeat for the U.S., as in Vietnam, to further weaken our country, and especially our fine, dedicated military. The Democrats did not want another Muslim nation to become prosperous, such as Qatar, or the Emirates. Muslims, are not by definition, middle age barbarians. By handing Afghanistan over to the worst group in the country, the Democrats insured that there would be another country in the image of Cuba, and Venezuela. Both have long been held by the Hollywood elites, and Tech billionaires, and the Countries of choice. Muslims are intelligent people. By handing over their lives to the barbaric Taliban, liberals insure that this intelligent is not soon realized. The liberal talking heads tell us that the Afghan troops “refused to fight.” The Afghan Northern Alliance was fighting the Taliban before we came, and is fighting still. The President, and many of his leaders did not flee the country, they went to join the Northern Alliance, and will continue the fight. Only the people suffer for the Hollywood liberal backstabbing. Afghan people first, U. S. Military people second, eventually the American people.

Virginia Peschke
1 year ago

Some of the comments below remind me that there are requirements for a “Just War” in Catholic theology and 3 of the requirements are: It must be a war for a legitimate cause, (in defense of national survival), it must be one that can be won and the country must fight to win. No country should enter into a war where its soldiers are at risk that is not necessary for the country’s survival. Sacrificing blood in a war that cannot be won or is not intended to be won is clearly immoral.

Virginia Peschke
1 year ago

I think it would be a good idea to have a celebration for all the Afghanistan veterans just as we did for the Viet Nam vets. It took us 10 years to honor those wonderful vets, but they appreciated it none-the-less. I attended the Chicago parade, which was topped off with a Styx concert in Grant Park with a replica of the Black Wall. There were vets in wheelchairs pushed to the front of the crowd and we all linked arms to sing the Anthem and a host of great songs. It was a wonderful experience for the veterans and for those of us they served.
Let’s do something like that when the remaining soldiers and Afghan supporters are safe here at home. They deserve everything they get and it might help to show vets how much they are appreciated in order to help them cope with the aftermath of war.

Donn Morris
1 year ago

It took 30 years after returning to country (from Vietnam) to receive my first “Thank you for your service”. I think the attitude of American’s changed with the resounding, clear cut victory in Desert Storm”. I just hope in doesn’t take another 30 years to honor these veteran’s.

1 year ago

I know in the area where we live, the community goes out of its way to thank veterans for their service. When i am shopping with my Navy ballcap on, I am surprised by the number of younger people that thank me and then engage in conversation to learn more of what I did. Brings tears to your eyes at times.

1 year ago

As a Vietnam vet, I can well understand this sad state of affairs…..when soldiers, sailors, airmen and marines discover they have been used for reasons other than true honorable service to their country, they fall into a depression and anger that belies the norm. When you come back from war, and are shown how much you and your brothers in arms wasted in blood, sweat and tears, and discover those who sent you were lying, using and abusing that honorable sacrifice, your heart sinks. My return from war was additionally flavored with personal attacks, “in my face” abuseiveness and shunning….and the political and military leaders closed their eyes and ears to those who served. It’s like finding out your beloved spouse has gone behind your back, committing adultery and then rubbing it in your face. And getting praise for doing so. Many veterans feel that same broken heart despair.

1 year ago
Reply to  D.P.

Thank you for your service! And, never forget there are many, many Americans that appreciate what you and so man others did. God bless.

Arthur D Ferguson
1 year ago

As a 23 year veteran, I (and countless others) can tell you exactly why the suicide rate is so high. In a word: Despondency! Since Viet Nam we have witnessed a complete lack of strength and will power from both our civilian leaders and Flag Officers that have become nothing more than politicians themselves!

We are now in a fight to the death with a religion, Islam. They are dedicated and committed to killing every infidel (any non-believer in Islam). Our country’s leaders are emblematic of the indoctrinated “woke” products of our education system. A huge example being the five captured terrorists, traded by Obama, for a admitted American deserter! Four of those terrorists are now running Afghanistan and will be killing many more Americans.

We military KNOW that we are expected to give every sacrifice, even our lives. That is not the problem. The problem is that we also KNOW we are being led and directed by people that have no comprehension of our enemy and their dedication to destroying America.

1 year ago

Concur with you.

1 year ago
Reply to  Max

If only our “leaders” could experience other countries lack of compassion toward their fellow men, and then be on the front lines.

1 year ago
Reply to  Rich

These “leaders” are too scared to face reality and find out the truth.

Bob L.
1 year ago

“No win” wars that the U.S. has engaged in since the U.N. was formed not only don’t conform to the Constitutional duty of our military’s existence, they often leave our veterans with a feeling of unaccomplishment in the missions they went to fulfill. The reason we ended up going to war with global terrorism can be blamed on the role of global policeman for the U.N. and our globalist nation building policies also related to membership in the U.N. Other people in the world have to deal with their own issues and forms of government themselves. We are beginning to see what globalist interference looks like right here within our own government – and most of us don’t like it either.

R.J. from Arizona
1 year ago

Just like Viet Nam, there was no strategy to fight, win the war and leave. Should this country get involved in another situation, and the Congress votes to go, then
1) keep the politicians out if it
2) tell the generals to fight to win
3) tell VA to take care of our wounded so those Vets don’t have to fight for their benefits.
4) never again have these young kids have to serve 3,4 or 5 tours.
And finally, treat these Veterans with Respect!

Mike S
1 year ago

You are correct R.J. in every respect. But I’d like to add that the only way to end wars is to dedicate yourself to total war. You go at the enemy with such ferocity that no nation would EVER risk the consequences of going to war again. Early during WWII, the allies declared that the only way the war was going to end was UNCONDITIONALLY. Only a madman like Adolph Hitler and the extremists in Japan allowed the war to continue. Had the war not ended unconditionally, it’s quite likely we would have seen WWIII occur soon after with even far more deaths, perhaps with different results. Make the consequences of war so abhorrent, no sane person would risk it for themselves or their country.

1 year ago
Reply to  Mike S

And I have to reply with this….no campaign, no action, no protraction of battle on the part of our units and men ever failed….we never surrendered, never gave quarter to the enemy and held our heads high…..our units in the Mekong delta were on target, every time…..the enemy was so afraid of us, at the mere sound of our helos and gunboats many would toss their weapons and claim chu hoi. By the time the Tet offensive of ’68 has transpired, 80% of the viet cong fighting force had been neutralized…..after that came the regular troops from the north….and they too faced much the same response. We proudly served, and came home to much abuse, and the later knowledge that our top brass (Westmorland, McNamarra LBJ, and others) had used all of us to devious ends. WE felt wasted..

Stephen Russell
1 year ago

Our leadership in DoD kept war going on for endless wars to date
I blame Pentagon
White House
& No Plans to strike enemy early on from 2003.
& our pullout worse than Vietnam

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