Suicide rates among members of the military have spiked in recent months. There have been over 150 since the first of the year – a number that exceeds U.S. combat deaths in Afghanistan during the same period.
U.S. Senator Patty Murray argues that the military’s inadequate system for mental health evaluation and treatment is to blame. Indeed, she accuses the military of actually working against service members.
“Soldiers were diagnosed with PTSD, not just once but several times, had their diagnoses taken away,” she said. “In many instances these soldiers were told they were embellishing or even outright lying about their symptoms.”
On Monday, Murray announced a bill that would ensure that members of the military and veterans have access to consistent, quality mental healthcare. Among other things, the bill would create a comprehensive suicide prevention program for the military and would extend mental health services to family members, many of who have to bear the effects of a loved one suffering from PTSD.
“These are the men and women who we must be there for,” she said. “They have served and sacrificed and done everything we have asked of them.”
One person Murray hopes will be helped by her proposal is Sergeant David Leavitt, an 11-year veteran of the Army. Leavitt says he got PTSD when he was in Iraq during the initial invasion in 2003. When he was later redeployed in Afghanistan and his symptoms worsened, he asked his leaders for help, but didn’t get any.
“I handed my weapons over to my team leader one day and refused to continue any operations until I received help,” he said. “I was reprimanded.”
Leavitt said he eventually did get some assistance, but was sent home to the U.S. without any follow-up care. He went back to Afghanistan for his final deployment two years ago, where he tried to commit suicide.
Leavitt says he still isn’t getting the help he needs. “I feel like I’m in another combat zone,” he said. “This time I’m fighting my own people.”
He hopes Murray’s bill will help others in his situation get the care they need before they become another suicide statistic.