This editorial is published on more than one of our websites. It is a subject that needs to be addressed. During these troubled financial times stress increases in all walks of life. The United States military is no exception.
There have been reports of a sharp rise in the number of suicides by service members; the rate is higher than that of the general population, and it’s rising. Approximately 106 U.S. Army soldiers committed suicide in 2006. That rose to 115 in 2007 and 140 in 2008. By April, at least 48 soldiers had committed suicide this year. That puts 2009 on track to be the deadliest year yet since statistics were published on Army suicides for the first time in 1980. And suicide rates are trending upward in the U.S. Marines, Navy and Air Force too.
As a 25-year veteran of conflicts from Vietnam to the Gulf War (December 1968 through June of 1993), I can confirm that economic times often motivate enlistment in the armed forces. The current economic crisis is no exception. Jobless rates and layoffs are at an all-time high. My spouse is retired from the Army, and gives a different viewpoint, since the Army is much larger than the Marine Corps. The bottom line is military employment for young men and women during tough financial times.
Add combat to the stress and the ability to concentrate changes drastically. One must be focused at all times. There is a general tendency to become somewhat paranoid when someone is trying to kill you. To counteract the obvious, one relies on training, attention to detail, and clear focus. Financial problems, threat of foreclosure, and credit card bills creep into the mind of the soldier, and it can be deadly.
The American Recovery and Reinvestment Act, signed into law by President Obama on 17 February 2009, contains some special provisions for military personnel who have been impacted by the recent real estate crisis. Unfortunately these provisions are ignored by some financial institutions and bungled by others. The same applies to the Soldiers and Sailors Relief Act.
The tragedy at Camp Liberty, near Baghdad, (May 2009) where an American soldier shot and killed five U.S. personnel and wounded three others, has been at least six years in the making. It is a tragedy that effects all service members, both active and retired. In combat, where everyone carries loaded weapons, we should feel safe among our own. While I cannot say the tragedy was due to financial stress, it is a reminder. Many of my Marines, and my wife’s Soldiers, were effected by financial problems.
While some relief may have been forthcoming relative to the real estate crisis, any cost savings and breathing room in the family budget may have been undone by the credit card industry. In 2003 the Office of the Comptroller proposed an increase in credit card payments to counteract negative amortization. The proposal was approved in 2005. The proposal never went into effect. In 2009, however, as credit card companies are finally pressured with a credit card holder bill of rights, they are putting the 2003 proposal into effect.
Credit card payments have increased dramatically at a time when Americans can least afford it. Our servicemen and women are no exception. While they were once protected by the Soldiers and Sailors Act, they are no longer protected unless they are in a combat zone. It is ironic when you realize why these changes were made. Bankers and the credit card industry lobbied Washington for the changes.
Our hearts go out to all brave young men and women in the United States Armed Forces. We respect those who served and are retired. Each time we see an article or news program about Traumatic Brain Injury it puts a lump in our throat and a tear in our eye. Iraq is a different kind of war than Vietnam or the Gulf War. Traumatic Brain Injury (TBI) is the signature wound of the Iraq War.
TBI is the result of an unseen enemy. Our military should not fight a financial war at home at the same time, where the enemy is seen but unresponsive. This dilemma is as old as war. It does not make it fair, easy, or right. Two of worst offenders in the financial world seem to be HSBC and Saxon Mortgage. The credit card industry is simply offensive across the board. None of the three seem to respect the U.S. military, while they search for ways to make an extra dime or dollar.
T. M. Blake, MSgt, USMC (Retired)
Update – these facts are now known:
He was a career Army man who joined up because it was a steady job, but he had fallen into debt paying off a $1,500-a-month mortgage, his father said. Now, just weeks from finishing his third tour in Iraq, Sgt. John M. Russell was in trouble with his commanding officer, who ordered him to turn in his gun and receive psychological counseling.