By: Greg Mitchell
For the past five years, since shortly after the U.S. invasion of Iraq, I have chronicled — often a lonely pursuit — the deaths of nearly one thousand U.S. military personnel who have died in that war from “non-hostile” causes.
These include deaths from illness, accident, friendly fire and suicide. The suicide rate has surged in the past few years, as multiple tours increased, and this has always seemed especially haunting for me. Bloomberg News reports this week that a government study has found that current or former U.S. military personnel make up fully 20% of suicides in this country.
Word emerged over the weekend of another mysterious, non-hostile fatality (not necessarily a suicide) in Iraq. His name is Jeremiah Hughes. The army is investigating and may never release its findings.
But the final “mood” icon on his MySpace page, I discovered today, was a frown — with the word: “Crushed.”
Army Spc. Jeremiah Hughes, 26, left for Iraq in December with the Stryker brigade from Hawaii — three years after a previous tour. An article in the Honolulu Advertiser on Saturday quotes an entry from his MySpace page just before he was deployed: “I’m gonna hate being away from my wife for over a year. And I’m gonna hate not being able to spend time with her, or my friends, or my dogs. I’m really gonna dislike not being able to drink every once in a while when I get irritated by the things around me. And then of course, I can’t say that I’m gonna be too fond of people shooting at me again, or trying to blow me up again, or any of that stupid stuff.”
The Pentagon announced that he died Wednesday in Balad, Iraq, “from injuries sustained in a noncombat incident in Abu Ghraib.” His wife survives him.
Often, as I have written, local newspapers are first to reveal the true causes of death, gathering information from family or friends. There are several chapters about these sad cases in my new book on Iraq and the media (see below), including the story of Alyssa Peterson who took her life after refusing to engage in torture interrogations.
On Sunday, Bloomberg News revealed that current and former military personnel accounted for about 20 percent of U.S. suicides in 2005, according to a government study. Here is an excerpt from their account.
About 1,821 current or former soldiers committed suicide in 16 states in 2005, the most recent year of available data, according to the report published today by the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Almost half were diagnosed with depression and a third left suicide notes.
A rise in suicides among soldiers serving in the military has alarmed Pentagon planners and members of Congress as the war in Iraq enters its sixth year. An Army report produced last year found the rate of suicides among soldiers deployed in Iraq from 2003 to 2006 was almost 40 percent higher than the military’s average suicide rate. An update of the Army’s Mental Health Advisory Team report released in March found suicide rates for soldiers in 2007 remained “above normal Army rates.”
“The frequency and the length of deployments are stretching people to the limit and they can’t tolerate it,” Charles Figley, a psychologist who directs the Traumatology Institute at Florida State University, said in a telephone interview today. “They’re taking risks, taking alcohol and taking their own lives because they want to extinguish their pain.”
While 38 percent of the soldiers who took their own lives had a diagnosed mental health condition, only 27 percent were receiving mental health care, according to the CDC report.
A separate study last year found that combat veterans were twice as likely to take their own lives as people who hadn’t been in battle. That study, published in the Journal of Epidemiology and Community Health, looked at 320,000 men who had served in the military from 1917 to 1994.
Greg Mitchell’s new book is “So Wrong for So Long: How the Press, the Pundits — and the President — Failed on Iraq” (Unin Square Press). It features a preface by Bruce Springsteen and a foreword by Joe Galloway, and has been hailed by Bill Moyers, Glenn Greenwald, and in reviews ranging from Vanity Fair to the Los Angeles Times.