The troops are not all right: how leaders are overlooking our soliders

Obama won't tell just how American soldiers are doing in his State of the Union tonight, and it's a shame

Topics: U.S. Military, State of the Union, Suicide,

The troops are not all right: how leaders are overlooking our solidersU.S. Army Pfc. Ryan Walsh, attached to Delta Company, 1st Battalion, 28th Infantry Regiment, 4th Infantry Brigade Combat Team, 1st Infantry Division, works security on the roof of the police station in the Hatamyia region of Balad, Iraq, Oct. 31, 2009. Soldiers from Delta Company visit the station regularly to build and continue relationships with local leaders. (U.S. Navy photo by Mass Communication Specialist 1st Class Steven King/Released)(Credit: Mc1 Steven King)

Obama will touch on Tucson and the economy in his SOTU tonight, and he’ll reassure us that we are beating terrorism. He will talk about Iraq and Afghanistan, particularly the latter, affirming our success in driving back the Taliban and that we are on track to begin troop withdrawal in July, as planned.

He’ll likely have a line or two about the welfare of the troops, how we must support them when they come home and rebuild the morale shattered by broken withdrawal deadline after broken withdrawal deadline (he probably won’t use those words, exactly).

However, he won’t tell the whole story about how the troops are faring. reports that for the second year in a row, the military has lost more U.S. troops to suicide than it has to combat in either Iraq or Afghanistan.

The services counted 434 suicides by active duty personnel in 2010, up from 381 in 2009. These figures bely the truth. None of the services report suicides uniformly. For instance, the Army includes stats on certain reservists who kill themselves when they are not on active duty, but the National Guard only includes the number of service members on active duty. The Defense Department does not count suicides by veterans who have left the services completely. And the Department of Veterans Affairs keeps track of veteran suicides only if the individual was enrolled in the VA health care system. Three-quarters of veterans are not enrolled in the program.

We’ve known for some time that military personnel who’ve served in both quagmires are particularly prone to PTSD and other psychological disorders associated with multiple deployments, high stress, heavy carnage and a seemingly impossible mission.

A report by Chris Kirkham for the Huffington Post today also reveals that American troops suffer hardships not even associated with combat.

Kirkham focuses on Fort Sill in Lawton Oklahoma, a typical Army base, from the barracks to the mess hall to the “military loan” brokers and other predatory lenders encircling Fort Sill’s gates. Many of the troops stationed there and at other bases across the country, Kirkham writes, are suckered into high-interest, easy credit loans by brokers “catering” to military personnel but who essentially screw them out of their paychecks and intimidate them into making payments they can’t afford.

The Department of Defense first reported this problem in 2006 when it launched an investigation into predatory lenders and their tendency to “gouge our service people.” It has become such an epidemic that Holly Petraeus, the general’s wife, will head a newly created division of the Consumer Financial Protection Agency focused entirely on eliminating such practices directed towards the military.

This should have been fixed four years ago, but Kirkham’s piece, in which one PFC says, “I was actually debt-free my entire life, until I joined the Army,” clearly points out that it is not.

The president will avoid these hard truths in his speech tonight. No one has a clear solution, but as we plan our withdrawal from Afghanistan and Iraq moves towards greater sustainability, and we hopefully, finally end these endless wars, we must keep in mind that the troops might not be safe even after they come home.

Michelle Fitzsimmons is an editorial fellow at

More Related Stories

Featured Slide Shows

  • Share on Twitter
  • Share on Facebook
  • 1 of 11
  • Close
  • Fullscreen
  • Thumbnails
    Rose Jay via Shutterstock

    Most popular dog breeds in America

    Labrador Retriever

    These guys are happy because their little brains literally can't grasp the concept of global warming.

    Hysteria via Shutterstock

    Most popular dog breeds in America

    German Shepherd

    This momma is happy to bring her little guy into the world, because she doesn't know that one day they'll both be dead.

    Christian Mueller via Shutterstock

    Most popular dog breeds in America

    Golden Retriever

    I bet these guys wouldn't be having so much fun if they knew the sun was going to explode one day.

    WilleeCole Photography via Shutterstock

    Most popular dog breeds in America


    This dude thinks he's tough, but only because nobody ever told him about ISIS.

    Soloviova Liudmyla via Shutterstock

    Most popular dog breeds in America


    This little lady is dreaming about her next meal-- not Sudden Infant Death Syndrome.

    Labrador Photo Video via Shutterstock

    Most popular dog breeds in America

    Yorkshire Terrier

    This trusting yorkie has never even heard the name "Bernie Madoff."

    Pavla via Shutterstock

    Most popular dog breeds in America


    She is smiling so widely because she is too stupid to understand what the Holocaust was.

    Aneta Pics via Shutterstock

    Most popular dog breeds in America


    Sure, frolic now, man. One day you're going to be euthanized and so is everyone you love.

    Dezi via Shutterstock

    Most popular dog breeds in America

    French Bulldog

    He's on a casual afternoon stroll because he is unfamiliar with the concept of eternity.

    Jagodka via Shutterstock

    Most popular dog breeds in America


    Wouldn't it be nice if we could all be this care-free? But we can't because we are basically all indirectly responsible for slavery.

  • Recent Slide Shows



Comment Preview

Your name will appear as username ( settings | log out )

You may use these HTML tags and attributes: <a href=""> <b> <em> <strong> <i> <blockquote>