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Suicide of Prominent Iraq, Afghanistan Vet Highlights “Sham” of Pentagon Statistics

Clay Hunt, widely known and respected for his work in multiple groups assisting Iraq and Afghanistan veterans, took his own life on March 31. Hunt’s death is particularly tragic because he appeared in a Public Service Announcement for Iraq and Afghanistan Veterans of America (IAVA) and generally was a voice for veterans getting the help they need for dealing with post-traumatic stress disorder. From the IAVA obituary:

It is with unspeakable sadness that IAVA staff and members across the country mourn the loss of Clay Hunt. Clay took his own life on March 31st. Clay served in the Marine Corps for 4 years before being honorably discharged in 2009. He served in an infantry squad in Iraq in 2007 where he was wounded in action, receiving the Purple Heart Medal, and then in Afghanistan in 2008 as a Scout-Sniper.

Clay was an incredible advocate for our generation of veterans, a person of tremendous character and a fierce believer in the value of service. He was a leader for IAVA, participating in Storm the Hill 2010 and playing a critical role in the Ad Council campaign. In addition to his involvement with IAVA, he was active with Team Rubicon and Ride to Recovery. Clay believed his mission in life was to serve both in and out of the military. That is something that we will never forget.

Equally tragic is that the Pentagon will not count Hunt’s death among the spiraling figures for military suicides. From CNN:

“In my mind he is a casualty of war,” she [Hunt’s mother, Susan Selke] said. “But he died here instead of over there. He died as a result of his war experience. There is no doubt in my mind.”

But Hunt’s death will not be counted by the Pentagon as an official military suicide, since he left the Marines in 2009.

“That is a complete sham in my opinion,” [Hunt’s sniper school partner Jake] Wood said. “Part of Clay was killed in Iraq. Part of Clay was killed in Afghanistan and the rest of him was killed in Houston, Texas. And if that is not reflected in military statistics, it’s a shame.”

Last September, Joint Chiefs Chairman Mike Mullen addressed the increased rate of military suicides:

A dramatic surge in troop suicides has become the Pentagon’s top “emergency” issue, though the brass doesn’t know how to curb the tragedies. Adm. Mike Mullen, the chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, said that while suicides have been on the rise since 2004, the height of the Iraq and Afghanistan wars, they have really jumped recently, forcing he and his top aides to look for a solution.

“The emergency issue for me right now is the suicide issue,” he said at a media roundtable breakfast today. Just last week, he added, five Army soldiers took their lives. “It’s a very difficult problem. There’s not a national solution,” he said.

After admitting that the rate is likely to increase further before declining, Mullen then acknowledged that returning vets also are at risk:

What’s more, he added, the surge in troops coming home may encounter troubled families when they arrive back home. “I think we’re going to see a significant increase in the challenges that we have in terms of our troops and our families because they are going to have some time [together at home] and if things have been pent up or packed in or basically suppressed or sucked up, what ever term you want to use, we’re going to see that as well,” Mullen said.

So the Pentagon knows that returning vets face a high suicide risk and yet the Pentagon refuses to include these deaths among the official suicide figures. This means, of course, that the suicide figures actually are even much higher than the Pentagon admits.

Perhaps the most frustrating aspect of this whole situation is that the Obama administration launched its effort to support military families this week. Sadly, however, the program being launched is being used as a vehicle to rehabilitate the image of war criminal Stanley McChrystal, against the wishes of Pat Tillman’s family, who suffered greatly from McChrystal’s role in covering up the friendly fire aspect of Tillman’s death. Furthermore, the program is being administered by the Center for a New American Security, which is funded by military contractors and is involved in a campaign to sell the idea of extending the Iraq war. At a time when it should be stepping up real services for both active military personnel and for veterans, the Obama administration is playing the worst sort of cynical politics with military families. There are no words to describe the evil of this situation.

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Jim White

Jim White

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