Esme’s Blog: The Mental Health Of Our Military

The horrifying tragedy of the American soldier who is accused of slaughtering 16 Afghan civilians raises serious questions about the U.S. Military’s awareness, monitoring and understanding of how troops are faring under the unimaginable stresses of combat.

Sgt. Robert Bales served three tours of duty in Iraq and suffered multiple wounds. He suffered a serious concussion during a vehicle crash during one tour, part of his foot was blown off during another attack.

On the day of the massacre he reportedly witnessed a fellow soldier’s leg get blown off. There are reports he was having marital and financial difficulties at home. He had enlisted after 9/11 and had been decorated numerous times.

On this, his fourth tour of duty, what kind of screening did he receive to make sure the stresses he had already lived through would not overwhelm him?

According to data from the U.S. Army Public Health Command, suicides among military personnel have risen 80 percent since the 2003 start of the Iraq conflict. In 2007 and 2008, 255 troops took their own lives.

Those of us who have not served and been in combat cannot possibly understand what our men and women in uniform have lived through. But this latest tragedy and the rising suicide figures suggest we are failing them when it comes to making sure that mentally our soldiers are fit to serve and eventually return to civilian life.

More from Esme Murphy
  • gtV

    “Those of us who have not served and been in combat cannot possibly understand what our men and women in uniform have lived through. But this latest tragedy and the rising suicide figures suggest we are failing them when it comes to making sure that mentally our soldiers are fit to serve and eventually return to civilian life.”–Esme Murphy

    Whether it was WW2, Korea, Vietnam, and now the Gulf Wars this country still has not truly appreciated or learned what our men and women who served us faithfully in the military have experienced or the re-adjustments that need to be made upon coming home.

    The Pentagon and the US Veterans Administration [USVA] still seem to be catching up on the homecoming and re- adjustment needs of the troops. As a Vietnam era veteran, I have lost friends, who served, to suicides 5, 10, 15, and even 20 years after they came home. With the exception of their contemporary veteran friends, the post service re-adjustments were painful to say the least. By why did it take so long for the Government, VA, and Pentagon to react to their needs?

    Now the situation stands exacerbated by the incident in Afghanistan, where in all likelihood, Sgt Robert Bates, a decorated war veteran, stands accused of multiple murders. The system failed Sgt Bates.

    Strange, how the military establishment and the Pentagon are caught flat-footed now reacting to the needs of the troops on line. Doesn’t anyone ever learn that wars and the sacrifices that occur from all concerned incur enormous human costs beyond the front lines? Just any veteran and you will be surprised at the answers.

    As a popular song states; “…When will we ever learn? When will we ever–learn?…” We will we ever learn to stand by our veterans and not fail them when they need it most?

  • farid moucavi

    So if this guy had murdered many white women and children in the US would you be feeling sorry for him? The day that these double standards end then the US will start to join the civilized world. This is a murdering Psychopath and should be treated no differently than any other such….

    • steve


  • gtV

    @farid m
    There are reasons why this incident happened. Your political insolence is showing. As a veteran I am not condoning Sgt Bales actions nor I am going to string him up from the nearest tree limb. There has to be some logical rational explanation why this decorated soldier went off the deep-end and 16 non-combatants were killed.

    He deserves a fair hearing and full comprehensive non-political investigation into his case. Sgt Bales is not “…a murdering Psychopath…” but just maybe a victim of the war just like the civilians in it in harm’s way. He deserves due process and the probable help he needs.

    Unless you have been in his shoes and suffered the terrible side effects of war, IE PTSD etcetera, don’t start lecturing me on double standards of morality and ethics. War has many victims. Sgt Bales may just well be an American victim of war’s idiocies. Ask any veteran……….

  • farid moucavi
    • Muslim Rage Boy


  • KLS

    Bring our soldiers home now!!!!!! What they and their families have to live with everyday is hell and it never ends. My father was killed in Korea when I was 3 years old and I feel the loss every day even though I am 62 years old.

  • Veteran

    Remember when the warmongers were calling Ron Paul weak on national security when he warned about these “blowback” effects? WE need to start holding people accountable for dragging our young people into these wars based on lies. Bill Kristol, Rumsfeld, Wolfowitz, Hillary, McCain, Lindsay Graham, etc. Let’s hold these war liars accountable for treason

  • TomK

    As a retired vet I cannot condone what Ssgt Bales is accused of doing. BUT, unlike Mr Farid I am more than willing to let the American system of justice take its course. There need to be answers and accountablility ALL THE WAY UP THE CHAIN OF COMMAND. When a president places his military in harms way the government assumes responsibility for those young men and women both during and AFTER the fight. But unfortunately it is those very people who end up being shunned by those who sent them. Good article esme.

  • Snooker

    If we have to start worrying about soldier’s “feelings” then we don’t have much of a military.

  • Bonnie

    I have thought for years that the military does a dis-service to all who go into the military and to the communities they go back to after – by putting them through a rigid boot camp to get the mind set they need for being part of the military, but NEVER putting them through a full fledged rigid bootcamp to get the mind set they need to go back into living as a Civilian. Now, finally when the levels of Post Traumatic Stress are what they are, they are scrambling to help– When there should have been a program in place for ALL military long ago, because the mind set and rigidness of the military does not readily translate back to the civilian world whether they were in a combat zone or not. Yes, there are exceptions, but my thought is those exceptions should not have set a standard for not doing a boot camp to get back to the civilian world many many years ago. NOW, I hope they – the powers over the military – realize this is not just a short term thing for those coming out of war. It should be part of the military process, and not a quick fix, but a BOOT Camp!

    • Tony Rozycki

      R & R in flip-flops?

  • J

    We were referred a client for substance abuse issues because the VA said he had been in their treatment program too many times and they would not take him back. We have had clients that have to wait months to get into the VA, so to go local doctors or clinics. The VA system is not efficient and is understaffed. The VA should collaberate with local providers (expecially in the outstate areas) to assure that troops are getting the services they need. In addition, the military needs to understand that the troops are human, not machines, and each person has their own limits as to how much exposure to stress and trauma is tolerable.

  • Murph

    Until you dive 5 inches under the ground when a heavy equipment trailer door hits the pavement. When you leave your fingerprints 2 inches deep in the airliner you went on vacation in.When you deer hunt,go to fireworks displays and all the other stuff.You don’t realize what war has taken away from you! Politicins start wars and non rich people fight them! Tell the rich people and politicians to walk a mile in those shoes!! Nothing like stepping on a branch in the woods that makes a click sound when it breaks! What a rush!

    • farid moucavi

      I agree that this soldier is also a victim. To a much lesser degree than the poor Afghan children, but still a victim.

      Our system is such that at best it only punishes the instrument of the crime such as this soldier. I just wish he had used his rage against those who are behind these wars which are just waged to satisfy the obscene and insatiable greedy few…..

      It is about unequitable distribution of resources. Sociopathetic sons of presidents becoming presidents just like meritless degenerate princes inheriting kingdoms.

      If we want to recover from this mess, we must start thinking deeply about this system and introduce some real reforms. I only hope that it is not too late already.

      • Murph

        A man with principles and money is rare! A man used and abused by the SYSTEM is not! So my friends,as obvious as this is, I will say it again ,the system is broken.But the American spirit is not.Vote and elect whoever you choose.But choose well, sleep well and avoid an eventual meeting with the devil if you don’t !In closing there is NO America’s news channel run by an Austrailian named Murdoch ! There is however,so much misinformation and derelection of telling the truth.That it does not take a Rhodes scholar to see who the enemies of the country we grew up in really are! Tell them in November that you did not buy the B.S.. You’ll be glad you did!

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