U.S. Army Stressed After Nearly a Decade of War

The military has fought for years against the stigma of combat stress injuries like post traumatic stress disorder, yet the study accuses Army leaders of neglecting to recognize the symptoms of a potential suicide victim. It notes that according to a separate survey an estimated 13 percent of the Army suffered from PTSD, while only 9 percent of suicide deaths in recent years had been diagnosed with PTSD, suggesting many of the victims had fallen through the cracks.

In many cases, the report says, suicides were only discovered weeks after they occurred. In one example cited in the report, a soldier was discovered five weeks after he had taken his life only after his landlord complained that the rent had not been received.

"It is often only in hindsight (post mortem) that we see indications of undocumented high-risk behavior that provided opportunity for life-saving intervention," the study says.

"In an organization that prides itself on never leaving a soldier behind, this sobering example speaks to the breakdown of leadership in garrison, which appears to be worsening as the requirements of prolonged conflict slowly erode the essential attributes that have defined the Army for generation," it adds.

Alcohol and Drug Abuse

The study found that substance abuse strongly correlates to suicides and criminal acts, including violence, by soldiers. Again, it faults the Army for failing to adequately test for drug use.

However, it's what it calls the "pervasive climate of prescription medication use in the Army" that is of most concern to the study's authors.

"As we continue to wage war on several fronts, data would suggest we are becoming more dependent on pharmaceuticals to sustain the force. In fact, anecdotal information suggests that the force is becoming increasingly dependent on both legal and illegal drugs," it says.

Soldiers are often prescribed drugs that can be filled "as needed" without an expiration date, which allows them to abuse the drugs even if they are not needed. The study suggests this policy also contributes to the sale of prescription drugs among the force by soldiers with open-ended prescriptions.

Illegal drug users are still of concern, particularly those that are repeat and serial offenders who have been allowed to remain in the Army. According to the study if a soldier tests positive for a controlled substance twice, there is a 90 percent chance he or she will test positive at least once more.

The study says one soldier even tested positive 17 times and had been allowed to remain in the Army.

Crime

The report documents disturbing increases of crime by soldiers. Additionally, many crimes go unreported to law enforcement and others do not face any disciplinary action within the Army.

"Crime is on the rise and discipline is seemingly going unchecked. In fact, approximately 1,054 soldiers who have committed two or more felony offenses are still serving in the Army today," the study says.

In 2009 alone, 15,074 cases of soldier misconduct faced no known disciplinary or corrective action, or referral to law enforcement, it found. Only a fraction of domestic abuse cases were referred to law enforcement.

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