Today is our 4,160th day in Afghanistan.
We'll start this morning as we always do - with the latest casualty figures from our ongoing war, courtesy of Antiwar.com:
US Military Deaths - Afghanistan: 2,177
Other Military Deaths - Afghanistan: 1,081
We find this morning's cost of war
passing through: $1, 427, 314, 700, 000 .00
We've been focused on our troops overseas and the issues they face for years. But with Iraq completed, and more and more troops from Afghanistan starting to come back, let's look inside for a moment today. What's it like to come home?
In the first month home from war, one Marine routinely searched his darkened bedroom for the rifle he'd left in Iraq, while another Marine shunned his favorite nightspot for fear that someone in the club might carry a gun.
In the four weeks after their homecomings, one infantryman drove “white knuckled” at 55 mph while another soldier purposely began living even faster — losing her virginity, going blonde and drinking hard with battle buddies.
Some 34,000 service members will ship home from Afghanistan during the next year, President Barack Obama told the nation last week.
Amid the gleeful glow of arrivals, many of those troops may quickly confront sensory overloads, social awkwardness and, perhaps, deep cravings for personal freedoms, according to interviews with four younger veterans who weathered such moments.
“The first 30 days are interesting,” said Alex Horton, who spent 15 months in Iraq as an Army infantryman, including during the 2007 troop surge in Baghdad and Diyala Province.
Today, he works for the Department of Veterans Affairs. "I’ll call it the unraveling. That first week back you’re still high on everything, kissing your wife or girlfriend, sometimes seeing your kids for the first time. But then the tension starts to build.
“You experience culture and weather shock, and notice your senses are heightened,” said Horton, adding that another common theme — albeit something he did not go through — involves disrupting the daily routines established by a spouse and kids during a service member’s absence, and consequently, dealing with strained relationships.
To that point, two veterans interviewed for this story, including Horton, said they suffered romantic breakups after returning from combat, and two got divorced.
"Trying to get back to my regular life was hard because I wouldn’t talk much to anybody. I didn’t want to talk about what went on in Iraq, didn't want to describe the details," said Paul Menefee, a former Marine who was deployed twice to Iraq and fought in the Battle of Fallujah in late 2004.
"Things that happened, I didn’t want to remember. I was trying to cope in my own way, not deal with the images in my head," added Menefee, who eventually divorced his wife. "I was distant from my wife, mother, cousins, brothers, sisters, aunts, uncles. At Sunday dinners, I pretty much stayed off to myself."
Troops coming home have another challenge. Some stay in the military, but for those completing their duties, or for many reservists coming back...they're out of a job. We've been bad at this part of the transition for a very long time, and the state of the economy hasn't helped. But slowly, finally, things are starting to turn around. There's a new career center that's been built, curiosly overseas near a country we've already left
, but it's there nonetheless.
CAMP ARIFJAN, Kuwait — The center isn’t even complete yet, but a new Army Career and Alumni Program Center is open for business here for soldiers separating from the military.
ACAP centers provide transitioning active-duty, reserve or National Guard soldiers with benefits counseling and employment transition services such as resume writing and interview workshops.
The need for a center in Kuwait derived from fact that at least some of the 13,000 servicemembers serving in Kuwait — mostly soldiers — will be leaving the service. ACAP centers assist soldiers within two years of retirement or one year of separating.
“You tell them I’m interested in being a teacher, and getting an apprenticeship and they will go find the information ... as well as what they can do to get you into the program,” said Spc. David Hunt, who is currently deployed in Kuwait. Hunt will be returning to the U.S. in late February or early March, and will separate in April. He hopes to become a teacher, and at the center, he found there are numerous programs to get him to that goal.
Sgt. Barry Shapiro is also leaving the military in April. “The time line is pretty short,” he said. Without the ACAP center, it would potentially mean sacrificing his terminal leave once he gets back to the U.S. to get the information he gets here.
“It relieves some of that transitional stress,” said Shapiro. “When I get back I’m not wondering how I am going to put a resume together, or what is my strategy going to be,” he added. “This ultimately means I can do my job up to the last minute, get out and be ready and prepared to go to work.”
“I think it provides a little extra security to the soldier knowing that even though he is in a deployed setting, he’s able to get the same services he would be able to get back home,” said Kish Hamilton, a counselor at the center who has been helping Shapiro and Hunt.
Finally today....there's still those soldiers for whom the whole experience is too much. These stories come and go throughout the news cycle, but they never go away. Despite the efforts of the government and support agencies alike, soldier suicides still seem to be constant, although now there's some thought that they might actually be underestimated.
Veterans make up 22.2 percent of all suicides in the U.S., and that startling figure might actually be an underestimate because of difficulty in determining veterans’ status, according to a new report.
The total is roughly 18 to 22 veteran suicides per day.
Two-thirds of veterans who commit suicide are age 50 or older, according to the report on suicide prevention and mental health services released Friday by the Veterans Affairs Department. Twenty percent are under age 40, and just 3 percent are under 30.
Based on a review of deaths in the U.S. since 2009, the report says the suicide rate for young and unmarried veterans could be under-reported, especially for females, because death certificates might not note veteran status.
VA officials, who have dramatically expanded mental health and suicide prevention programs since 2007, are focusing on when people are most at risk and what kind of treatment, if any, they were receiving for depression or other mental issues.
The report shows that beginning in 2012 there was a slight decrease in suicide attempts by veterans who were receiving treatment from VA hospitals and clinics. In a response to the report, VA officials are taking this as a sign their enhanced treatment efforts for veterans at high risk of suicide is working.
In a statement, VA officials said preliminary evidence suggests VA programs are reducing suicides, but victory is not being declared just yet.
“VA must continue to provide a high level of care and recognize that there is still much more work to do,” the statement says. “As long as veterans die by suicide, we must continue to improve and provide even better services and care.”
18 to 22 suicides per day doesn't sound like much, given how vast the population of the country is. But even one is one too many. Somewhere along the line, we're failing our soldiers, sailors, airmen, and Marines. Perhaps the only solution is to bring them all home.