Eighteen American war veterans kill themselves every day. One thousand former soldiers receiving care from the Department of Veterans Affairs attempt suicide every month. More veterans are committing suicide than are dying in combat overseas.
These are statistics that most Americans don't know, because the Bush administration has refused to tell them. Since the start of the Iraq War, the government has tried to present it as a war without casualties.
In fact, they never would have come to light were it not for a class action lawsuit brought by Veterans for Common Sense and Veterans United for Truth on behalf of the 1.7 million Americans who have served in Iraq and Afghanistan. The two groups allege the Department of Veterans Affairs has systematically denied mental health care and disability benefits to veterans returning from the conflict zones.
Within a six-week period in 2002, three Special Forces sergeants returned from Afghanistan and murdered their wives at Fort Bragg in North Carolina. Two immediately turned their guns on themselves; the third hanged himself in a jail cell. A fourth soldier at the same Army base also killed his wife during those six weeks.
At the beginning of this wartime period, the cluster of murder-suicides set off alarms about the possible link between combat tours and domestic violence, a link supported by a study published that year in the journal Military Medicine. The killings also reinvigorated the concerns about military domestic violence that had led to the formation of the Defense Task Force on Domestic Violence two years earlier.
National attention to the subject was short-lived. But an examination by The Times found more than 150 cases of fatal domestic violence or child abuse in the United States involving service members and new veterans during the wartime period that began in October 2001 with the invasion of Afghanistan.
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Connie Sponsler-Garcia, another task force member, who now works on domestic violence projects with the Pentagon, agreed.
"Whereas something was a high priority before, now it's: 'Oh, dear, we have a war. Well get back to you in a few months,'" she said.
The fatalities examined by The New York Times show a military system that tries and sometimes fails to balance the demands of fighting a war with those of eradicating domestic violence.
According to interviews with law enforcement officials and court documents, the military has sent to war service members who had been charged with and even convicted of domestic violence crimes.
Deploying such convicted service members to a war zone violates military regulations and, in some cases, federal law.
Take the case of Sgt. Jared Terrasas. The first time that he was deployed to Iraq, his prosecution for domestic violence was delayed. Then, after pleading guilty, he was pulled out of a 16-week batterers intervention program run by the Marine Corps and sent to Iraq again.
Several months after Sergeant Terrasas returned home, his 7-month-old son died of a brain injury, and the marine was charged with his murder.
Deployment to war, with its long separations, can put serious stress on military families. And studies have shown that recurrent deployments heighten the likelihood of combat trauma, which, in turn, increases the risk of domestic violence.
"The more trauma out there, the more likely domestic violence is," said Dr. Jacquelyn C. Campbell, a professor at the Johns Hopkins School of Nursing who also was a member of the Pentagon task force.
The Times examined several cases in which mental health problems caused or exacerbated by war pushed already troubled families to a deadly breaking point.
In one instance, the Air Force repeatedly deployed to Iraq, Afghanistan and elsewhere Sgt. Jon Trevino, a medic with a history of psychological problems, including post-traumatic stress disorder.
Multiple deployments eroded Sergeant Trevino's marriage and worsened his mental health problems until, in 2006, he killed his wife, Carol, and then himself.
The military declared his suicide "service related."
U.S. Air Force Technical Sergeant Jeffrey VerSteegh, who repairs F-16 jets for the 132nd Fighter Wing, departed Des Moines, Iowa, in April for his third tour in Iraq. The father of four may lose his home when he returns.
The four-bedroom farmhouse he and his wife, Kathleen, own near the Iowa State Fairgrounds went into default in December after their monthly mortgage costs doubled to $1,100. Kathleen missed work because of breast cancer and they struggled to keep up the house payment, falling behind on other bills. Their bankruptcy was approved by the court a week after VerSteegh left for Iraq.
In the midst of the worst surge in mortgage defaults in seven decades, foreclosures in U.S. towns where soldiers live are increasing at a pace almost four times the national average, according to data compiled by research firm RealtyTrac Inc. in Irvine, California. As military families like the VerSteeghs signed up for the initial lower rates and easier terms of subprime mortgages, the number of people taking out Veterans Administration loans fell to the lowest in at least 12 years.
"We've never faced a situation like this, not in the Vietnam War, World War II, or the Korean War, where so many military are in danger of losing their homes," said Paul Sullivan, executive director of Veterans for Common Sense, a Washington-based advocacy group started in 2002 by Iraq and Afghanistan War veterans. "No one asked them for their credit score when we asked them to fight for us."
War Resister Corey Glass has been widely quoted as saying he joined the National Guard to help people in times of emergency, that he should have been filling sandbags in Louisiana, but instead was shipped to Iraq.
While the US is draining its people's tax dollars to protect KBR shareholders, what about those people Corey wanted to help? Many of them are still homeless - or about to be.
Joe Stevens used to be a commercial fisherman - until diabetes took his legs.
He used to have a daughter - until her suicide left him caring for two of her three children.
He used to have a house in the Lyman community - until a tornado spun from Hurricane Katrina took that too.
Stevens, 52, now is facing the loss of the mobile home he has been living in for the better part of two years.
The Federal Emergency Management Agency is working to draw its emergency-housing program to a close by March 2009, but some deadlines are earlier. Stevens said he was told he had until today to find an apartment, although FEMA officials deny threatening anyone with that deadline.
"They are trying to get us out of here," Stevens said. "I'm just having trouble getting up a deposit."
It has been 33 months since Hurricane Katrina hit the Mississippi Gulf Coast. Much has been accomplished since that day, Aug. 29, 2005, but the toughest part of the recovery lies ahead.
There are 6,334 FEMA trailers and mobile homes still in use on the Coast, housing about 16,600 people. Approximately 1,200 others are in motel rooms, having been moved out of trailers by FEMA because of high formaldehyde levels.
As the Coast enters its third hurricane season since Katrina, advocates say those without a permanent home are most vulnerable.
An analysis of FEMA households at the beginning of May by the Back Bay Mission, a faith-based organization assisting Katrina survivors on the Coast, found that 82 percent of occupants made below-average income and one in three were over 60, had special needs or both.
Dena Wittman of Back Bay said many of them have been left out of the recovery.
"It's those with the lower incomes, those who are on fixed incomes who often are disabled, and those who are the working poor who essentially were able to make it without any type of subsidies from the government prior to Katrina," she said. "They are not able to afford to live in their communities now."
Wittman said housing prices have risen 40 percent since the storm but salaries have not. Add to that higher food and gas prices, and the situation has gotten worse.
Looking at this from another angle, is it any wonder that people living under these conditions join the military in order to get food, shelter and healthcare?
Canada needs to stand behind the people who managed to break free of this terrible cycle of forced poverty and violence. And in fact, Canada has already spoken: we want to be a refuge from militarism. Put it on your daily to-do list to call Stephen Harper and Diane Finley.
Remind them that Canada is a democracy. They're supposed to carry out the will of the people, and that is: Let Them Stay. Details here.