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Nov 13th, 2009

U.S. Army: Troop Morale Falls in Afghanistan

For soldiers, channeling stress is constant battle (NBC Nightly News, Nov. 13, 2009) – The psychological difficulties many U.S. troops face when returning home from combat is one reason violence has spiked in military communities. NBC’s Janet Shamlian reports. (02:41)

The Associated Press via NBC News
Nov. 13, 2009 

WASHINGTON — Morale has fallen among soldiers in Afghanistan, where troops are seeing record violence in the 8-year-old war, while those in Iraq show much improved mental health amid much lower violence, the Army said Friday.

Soldier suicides in Iraq did not increase for the first time since 2004, according to a new study. …

[Two new battlefield surveys] showed that soldiers on their third or fourth tours of duty had lower morale and more mental health problems than those with fewer deployments and an ever-increasing number of troops are having problems with their marriages.

The new survey on Afghanistan found instances of depression, anxiety and other psychological problems are about the same as they were in 2007. But it also said there is a shortage of mental health workers to help soldiers who need it, partly because of the buildup [President Barrack] Obama already started this year with the dispatch of more than 20,000 extra troops. …

Combat stress

A copy of the study obtained by NBC News also shows that more than one in five soldiers suffer some kind of combat stress, and that half of the soldiers in Afghanistan suffering psychological problems had trouble getting professional help for their problem. Despite the Army’s efforts to provide soldiers on the battlefield with real-time mental health care, the report said, those barriers to care are “significantly higher” than they were several years ago.

Slide presentation
Image: Pech Valley of Afghanistan's Kunar province
On the front lines in Afghanistan (MSNBC) — Soldiers are fighting to suppress the Taliban and win over the Afghan people as President Barack Obama considers deepening American involvement in Afghanistan.

The problem, the report added, is that Combat Stress units in Afghanistan are “undermanned.” Also, there is not a single Combat Stress detachment in the south of the country, where the majority of combat is taking place in an attempt to uproot the Taliban from their strongholds. …

In addition, the report reinforces the suspicion that multiple combat tours increases the risk of mental health problems. …

It’s the sixth such survey, a program that was groundbreaking when started in 2003 in that it was the biggest effort ever made to measure the health of troops – and the services they receive — right at the warfront. …

Key findings

Other findings of the Afghanistan survey included:

  • Junior enlisted soldiers reported significantly more marital problems than noncommissioned officers, stating they intended to get a divorce or that they suspected their spouses back home of infidelity.
  • Exposure to combat, long recognized as a strong factor in mental health problems, was significantly higher this year than rates in 2005 and similar to rates in 2007 for the combat units.
  • Combat units reported significantly lower unit morale in the last six months of their tours of duty, more evidence of the wearing affect of long deployments.
  • Troops in their third or fourth deployment reported significantly more acute stress and other psychological problems, and among those married, reported significantly more marital problems compared to soldiers on their first or second deployment.
  • Soldiers on their third or fourth deployment reported using medications for psychological or combat stress problems at a significantly higher rate than those on their first deployment.
  • It was significantly harder to get behavioral health care this year than in 2005, a finding that may be owing to the fact that troops are spread out at hundreds of posts around the rugged terrain of Afghanistan.
  • Troops who spent two to four hours daily playing video games or surfing the Internet as a way to cope helped lower their psychological problems, but spending time beyond that — three to four hours — had the opposite effect. Those who exercised or did other physical training decreased their mental problems, regardless of the time spent.
  • Troops reported more and better training in suicide prevention and other mental health programs the Army has been increasing over recent years in an unprecedented effort to focus on the force’s mental health.
  • The mental health care system in Afghanistan is understaffed based on the Army doctrine of one mental health worker for every 700 troops.


Related report

Army releases October suicide data (U.S. Department of Defense, Nov. 13, 2009) — There were 133 reported active-duty Army suicides from January 2009 through October 2009.  Of those, 90 have been confirmed, and 43 are pending determination of manner of death. For the same period in 2008, there were 115 suicides among active-duty soldiers. … Full report


9/29/10 Update

Fort Hood reports record number of suicides (AP, Sept. 28, 2010) — Fort Hood officials are investigating a rash of suicides in recent days, including the apparent murder-suicide of a soldier and his wife, the Associated Press reports. The incidents come as the central Texas Army post reports a record number of soldiers taking their own lives. According to figures released Tuesday, 14 suicides and six more suspected suicides have been reported so far this year among soldiers stationed at Fort Hood. Fort Hood reported 11 suicides in all of 2009. … Full story


Related reports on this site

Reported Fragging in Iraq (Sept. 27, 2010)

Heartbreak at Ft. Hood (Nov. 5, 2009)

GI Opens Fire on U.S. Troops in Iraq (May 12, 2009)

Army Ponders Suicide Prevention (Feb. 7, 2009)

Army: Stunning Spike in Suicides (Feb. 6, 2009)

Army Issues Statement on Suicides (Jan. 23, 2009)

Military Suicides Probed (Dec. 23, 2008)


FROM THE ARCHIVES: One Year Ago — November 13, 2008

Iraqi Soldier Kills U.S. Troops

Men look at their destroyed vehicles at a parking ...
Men look at their destroyed vehicles at a parking lot after a bomb attack in Baghdad, Nov. 12, 2008. (Photo credit: Mahmoud Raouf Mahmoud / Reuters)

One-year retrospective: One year ago today, I reported that an Iraqi soldier fired automatic weapons at U.S. soldiers at a military base in Mosul, killing two and wounding six before dying in a hail of bullets; that bombers struck Baghdad for a third straight day, killing 23 people and wounding scores in a string of attacks in mostly Shiite areas; that a suicide bomber driving an oil tanker detonated his explosives outside an Afghan government office in Kandahar, Afghanistan, during a provincial council meeting, killing at least six people and wounding 42; that Iran test-fired a solid-fuel, high-speed Sajjil long-range surface-to-surface missile with a range of about 1,200 miles; and that North Korea announced it would shut the country’s border with the South.

2 Responses to “Troop Morale Down, Suicides Up”
  1. Immelman for Congress » Blog Archive » Afghanistan War Cost Too High Says:

    […] Troop Morale Down, Suicides Up […]

  2. Immelman for Congress » Blog Archive » Iraq Exit Will Be Long and Hard Says:

    […] Troop Morale Down, Suicides Up (Nov. 13, 2009) […]

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