TIME Mental Health/Psychology

Military Suicides Aren’t Linked to Deployment, Study Finds

Military soldier with bag in airport, low section
Mike Powell—Getty Images Military soldier with bag in airport, low section

Service members who were not honorably discharged had a 21% higher suicide rate than those with honorable discharges

In certain branches of the military, suicide rates have almost doubled in the last decade. Now, sweeping new research published in the journal JAMA Psychiatry suggests that the reasons are much more complicated than just deployment. In a comprehensive new study that looked at all 3.9 million members of the U.S. military from 2001-2007—including the Air Force, Army, Army National Guard, Army Reserve. Marine Corps and Navy—suicide was not associated with deployment in the U.S.’s two most recent major conflicts: Operation Enduring Freedom and Operation Iraqi Freedom.

Those findings may be counterintuitive, says study author Mark A. Reger, PhD, Deputy Director at the National Center for Telehealth and Technology and chief of research, outcomes, and investigations, but some interesting theories have emerged.

“As the wars went on and deployments were occurring among our service members, the suicide rates were rising at the same time, so it’s very tempting to assume that it must be because of the deployment,” Reger says. But the strongest research from the Vietnam and Gulf War eras shows there’s not a significant difference in suicide rates between those who are deployed and the general population, he says. And that held true for the more recent conflicts. The authors looked at deployment in the Iraq and Afghanistan operations and found no association between deployment and suicide.

MORE: Military Suicides Down Overall, But National Guard Rates Up

He suspects part of the reason is that military members who are chosen for deployment may be among the most mentally fit. Prior to deployment, all service members go through pre-deployment screening to ensure that they’re mentally and physically ready for the challenges. “It is possible that those who deploy are healthier than those who did not deploy,” Reger says, although he adds that they didn’t have data to confirm that.

The authors didn’t look at data related to mental health status, medical status, combat exposure or combat injuries, so they were unable to see if those factors were linked to increase suicide risk. “All of these deserve future study,” Reger says.

Some patterns linked to suicide risk factors did emerge, however. Those who left the military early had a 63% higher suicide rate than people who had not separated from service. People with the fewest years of military service were also most at risk; service members who left the military after just a short stint of less than four years were at higher risk for suicide than those who left after serving four or more years, regardless of whether or not they’d been deployed. The study didn’t look at possible reasons for this, but the authors speculate that difficulty finding work, losing their military identity and having to find new social support may all play a role.

MORE: 22 Veterans Die By Suicide Every Day

Another big risk factor, the study authors concluded, was the nature of a service member’s discharge. Those who were not honorably discharged from the military had a 21% higher suicide rate than those who had an honorable discharge.

Making use of limited resources to prevent suicide is a key objective of the military, Reger says. Based on these findings, it’s possible that targeting prevention efforts more narrowly to those who leave the military early and those with a less-than-honorable discharge may be more efficient and impactful than casting a wide net and focusing prevention efforts on everyone who’s deployed, Reger says.

“I think the entire nation has a responsibility for working with service members and veterans, wherever they end up,” he says. “If our paper has the effect of influencing some of those in the prevention community beyond the military, that would be a good outcome.”

TIME India

At Least 6 Die in Kashmir Landslide

Unseasonal rains have lashed northern India over the past few weeks, destroying crops and raising concerns over safety

Correction appended, March 30

A landslide in Kashmir killed at least six people, authorities said Monday, as unseasonal rains swept northern India and compelled hundreds to flee their homes over fears of flooding.

The landslide took place in a village about 25 miles from Indian-administered Kashmir’s capital city Srinagar, where a section of a hill buried a house where three families were sleeping, Reuters reports.

“The entire house is covered in earth,” said Mushtaq Ahmad, a neighbor. “The chance of finding everyone alive is unlikely.”

Around 60 more villagers are trapped in three houses, officials told The Indian Express, and the Indian army has been called in to assist with the rescue efforts.

Meteorologists warned that the torrential rain that has damaged harvests in the region over the past month would persist, although the intensity is expected to reduce. Rural suicides in the region have also reportedly risen during the same period, as winter crops have been destroyed by the rains.

The devastation comes as Kashmiri families are still recovering from the region’s worst-ever flood last September, which claimed over 400 lives and rendered millions homeless.

Correction: The original version of his story incorrectly identified the number of people killed in the landslide. As of March 30, six people were found dead.

TIME Military

Air Force Security No Longer Banned From Saying ‘Have A Blessed Day’

The greeting was briefly changed to "have a nice day"

After a brief hiatus, Air Force security guards at a Georgia Air Force base can once again wish visitors a “blessed day” after a rule change stemming from a complaint was overturned Thursday.

Mikey Weinstein, CEO of the Military Religious Freedom Foundation, spoke with officials after receiving comments from 13 service personnel — nine of whom were practicing Christians. He convinced a commander to change the greeting to “have a nice day,” the Air Force Times reports.

News of the rule change at Robins Air Force Base quickly went viral, prompting officials to review the decision and eventually have it reversed.

“The Air Force takes any expressed concern over religious freedom very seriously … ‘have a blessed day’ as a greeting is consistent with Air Force standards and is not in violation of Air Force Instructions,” the Air Force said in a statement.

Weinstein said he plans to consult with lawyers to discern if any of his company’s clients wish to sue over the matter.

TIME Military

All But 2 Bodies Found After U.S. Military Copter Crash

A wheel and pieces of fuselage from an Army Black Hawk helicopter sit along the shoreline of Santa Rosa Sound near Navarre, Fla. on Wednesday, March 11, 2015
Devon Ravine—AP A wheel and pieces of fuselage from an Army Black Hawk helicopter sit along the shoreline of Santa Rosa Sound near Navarre, Fla., on March 11, 2015

The chopper was carrying four guardsmen and seven Marines when went it crashed

Search teams on Thursday found the wreckage of a crashed Army Black Hawk helicopter and recovered all but two of the bodies of servicemen killed in the Tuesday accident off the coast of Florida.

According to officials, the Louisiana National Guard and the U.S. Marine Corps were operating a nighttime training exercise when the helicopter, carrying four guardsmen and seven Marines, went down. Media reports say the night was heavy with a thick fog.

Nine bodies have been identified so far.

Another helicopter accompanying the crashed Black Hawk during the training drill returned safely.

An investigation into the cause of the crash is currently under way.

TIME sexism

Female Veteran Shamed For Parking in Veterans-Only Spot

Profile of United States Marine saluting
Getty Images

Nasty letter-writer assumed she wasn't a veteran

A female Air Force veteran parked in a veterans-only parking spot, and somebody wasn’t happy about it.

Mary Claire Caine of Wilmington, N.C., returned to her car after a trip to the grocery store and found this nasty note on her windshield: “Maybe [you] can’t read the sign you parked in front of … This space is reserved for those who fought for America … not you. Thanks, Wounded Vet.”

Actually, Caine was stationed in Kuwait and served on the flight line of the F-117 Nighthawk. She told WECT that her two kids always get excited whenever there’s a veteran-reserved parking space open at the supermarket.

Caine said she was shocked to find the note on her window. “For a split second I thought, ‘Am I a worthy enough veteran to park in this spot?’ And, then I got very angry at myself for even considering that,” she said.

“I think they took one look at me when I got out of my car and saw that I was a woman and assumed I wasn’t a veteran and assumed I hadn’t served my country,” Caine told WECT. “They have this image of what today’s American veteran is and honestly if you’ve served in the United States military, you know that veterans come in all shapes and sizes. I question whether the person who left the note was fully aware of that.”

“I want them to know they owe me and every other female service member who’s fighting now and who’s fought in the past, an apology for jumping to conclusions,” she said.

[WECT]

TIME Pakistan

Peshawar School Reopens for the First Time Since Taliban Massacre

PAKISTAN-UNREST-SCHOOLS
A Majeed—AFP/Getty Images Pakistani soldiers stand guard as parents arrive with their children at the Army Public School in Peshawar on Jan. 12, 2015.

Schools across Pakistan were on an extended break following the Dec. 16 attack, which claimed the lives of more than 140 people

Schools across Pakistan, including the one attacked by militants in the northwestern city of Peshawar, are reopening this week as they try and put a horrific month behind them.

The schools were on an extended break following the Dec. 16 attack on the Army Public School, which killed over 140 people and injured 120 others, the BBC reports.

Staff and students at the army-run school, where seven gunmen from the Pakistani Taliban massacred 132 students and several staff members, will hold a ceremony to commemorate the victims before classes resume in the coming days.

The attack, an apparent retaliation for army operations against the Taliban, was the worst-ever terrorist atrocity in Pakistan.

[BBC]

TIME Military

U.S. to Station 150 Armored Vehicles in Europe

LITHUANIA-UKRAINE-RUSSIA-CRISIS-DEFENCE-NATO-BALTICS
Petras Malukas—AFP/Getty Images Members of the US Army 1st Brigade, 1st Cavalry Division, transport heavy combat equipment including Bradley Fighting Vehicles at the railway station near the Rukla military base in Lithuania, Oct. 4, 2014.

The U.S. has around 30,000 troops on the continent

The United States will station around 150 tanks and armored vehicles in Europe by the end of next year for U.S. training use.

Commander of the U.S. army in Europe, Lieutenant-General Ben Hodges, says the vehicles could be placed in Poland, Romania or the Baltic states, Reuters reports.

Housing equipment in Europe ensures soldiers coming from the U.S. do not need to bring it with them. It also makes it easier for the U.S. to respond to emergencies like the Ukraine crisis if need be.

Currently the U.S. has around 30,000 troops in Europe, as well additionally large numbers of Air Force, Navy and Marine members, according to Reuters.

[Reuters]

TIME Military

See the U.S. Military’s Last Days of Combat in Afghanistan

The U.S.-led coalition ended its combat mission on Sunday

The United States-led coalition in Afghanistan ended its combat mission on Sunday, 13 years after it began in the wake of the Sept. 11 attacks. More than 10,000 troops will remain on the ground to aid Afghan forces in a new U.S. role that called Operation Freedom’s Sentinel.

“For more than 13 years, ever since nearly 3,000 innocent lives were taken from us on 9/11, our nation has been at war in Afghanistan,” President Barack Obama said in a statement. “Now, thanks to the extraordinary sacrifices of our men and women in uniform, our combat mission in Afghanistan is ending, and the longest war in American history is coming to a responsible conclusion.”

Almost 1 million U.S. troops served at least one tour in Afghanistan; a total 3,485 allied troops were killed, including 2,356 Americans.

Reuters photographer Lucas Jackson documented the final days of the U.S.’s official combat campaign with the men and women of Forward Operating Bases Gamberi and Fenty in Laghman and Nangarhar provinces, respectively.

Read next: U.S. Ends Its War in Afghanistan

TIME Veterans

Army Says Captains Can Now Retire With Full Benefits

Defense Secretary Chuck Hagel Travels To Mideast
Mark Wilson—Getty Images U.S. troops listen to Secretary of Defense Chuck Hagel speak during a visit to Baghdad International Airport on Dec. 9, 2014, in Baghdad

The officers were initially forced to retire with the benefits associated with sergeants

A change in U.S. Army policy this week means that captains being forced into retirement will be granted the full benefits associated with their ranks, instead of retiring with the benefits granted to sergeants as they initially would have had to.

Lawmakers who advocated for the added benefits said the policy change would give 120 soldiers an additional $1 million each over their lifetimes, the New York Times reported.

Since the officers served as captains for less than the required eight years for full benefits, they had been told they would be given benefits consummate with their previous enlisted rank.

“We fought and sacrificed and did well,” said Captain Tawanna Jamison, who is based at Fort Bragg, N.C. “This change restores honor and treats us right.”

The Army also notified 44 officers less than two years away from reaching the 20-year tenure required to receive full benefits that they would be allowed to keep their jobs instead of being forced to retire.

[NYT]

TIME Military

Where the U.S. Army Is Winless

Army v Navy
Rob Carr / Getty Images Army cadets cheer on their football team Saturday in their annual game against Navy.

Pall of football defeats hangs over West Point since 9/11

Thirteen years ago, two months after the terrorist attacks of 9/11, the U.S. finally had something to celebrate. “We believe the Taliban appears to have abandoned Kabul,” General Richard Myers, chairman of the Joint Chiefs, declared on Nov. 13, 2001, a scant 38 days after the U.S. launched its invasion of Afghanistan. The Taliban, who had given sanctuary to those who carried out the attacks on the World Trade Center and Pentagon, were on the run.

Nineteen days later, in the warm afterglow that followed, Army beat Navy, 26-17, in the annual gridiron classic between the nation’s two oldest military academies. It was the last game they’d play at Philadelphia’s now-gone Veterans Stadium.

It was also the last time Army beat Navy (Navy leads the series with 59 wins, 49 losses, and seven ties).

History repeated itself again Saturday, as Navy beat Army 17-10 in Baltimore in their 115th clash. The sting hurts even more given Army’s pregame hype.

For more than a decade, as Army loss follows Army loss, it has been distressing to see the Black Knights of West Point, N.Y., lose to the Midshipmen of Annapolis, Md. If the Army can’t prevail on the gridiron, the thinking goes, how can it beat the Taliban, al-Qaeda and the Islamic State of Iraq and Greater Syria (ISIS)? Football, after all, is a game played in the dirt—the Army’s home turf—not in salt water.

The streak has led to stories like this from Duffel Blog, a website dedicated to fake news about the U.S. military, shortly before kickoff:

The Army’s record-breaking 12-game losing streak against the Naval Academy is actually an experiment to build officer resiliency for the military’s next impossible war, according to one senior West Point official. “We’re going to win this time!” U.S. Army Chief of Staff Gen. Raymond T. Odierno is expected to exclaim to a crowd of crestfallen cadets in the locker room of M&T Bank Stadium, unconsciously echoing both William Westmoreland in 1971 and Secretary of Defense Charles Hagel last Friday…“Look at this way,” a leaked document of Gen. Odierno’s prepared remarks reveal. “Even at 0-12, we’ve still beaten Navy more recently than we’ve beaten any of America’s actual enemies!”

Football, with its goal lines, sidelines and referees, has a clarity that the wars in Afghanistan and Iraq lack. But few believe that the Army—the service that has done the bulk of the fighting, and dying in both (accounting for 4,955 of 6,828 U.S. military deaths, or 73%)—has achieved victories there.

Since 9/11, 95 graduates of the U.S. Military Academy have died in Afghanistan and Iraq. Sixteen from the U.S. Naval Academy have made the ultimate sacrifice, including 2nd Lieutenant J.P. Blecksmith, Class of 2003. He caught a pass in the last game the Army won. Blecksmith was following in the footsteps of his father, who served as a Marine in Vietnam. As the Marines fought to retake the Iraqi city of Fallujah on Nov. 11—Veterans Day—2004, a sniper killed him.

Granted, it’s foolish to link wars with games. Football no more resembles war than it resembles life. But the ethos of football—grit, self-sacrifice, playing through pain—isn’t foreign to those on the battlefield.

And the battle continues in Afghanistan. The Taliban once again are stepping up their attacks in and around Kabul, the capital. Early Saturday, a pair of men on a motorbike shot and killed a top Afghan court official, as he walked from his home to his car in a northwestern suburb of Kabul. Late Friday, a bomb killed two U.S. soldiers north of Kabul. A pair of attacks killed six Afghan soldiers and 12 men clearing clearing landmines.

But the U.S., more or less, has decided to pick up its ball and head home. “This month, our combat mission in Afghanistan will be over,” President Barack Obama said in his weekly radio address Saturday. “Our war in Afghanistan is coming to a responsible end.”

It’s a lot easier to define end than it is to define responsible. Check back in a year to see if Army’s other losing streak has come to an end, too.

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