Are inmates running the asylum?

Published 12:00 am Saturday, May 20, 2006

Of all the stories that have come out of the Iraq war, the most recent developments concerning the deployment of mentally ill troops to the region may be the most disturbing of them all.

I will never have a bad word to say about the men and women who are risking their lives everyday in the Middle East, regardless of any reservations that I may personally have about the validity of our involvement in the ongoing campaign.

I cannot fathom the stress and turmoil that our troops have to endure being away from their families for such extended periods of time under such trying circumstances. Aside from being separated from their loved ones, soldiers in the region have to endure extreme heat conditions, a public support base that seems to wobble back and forth every time a new poll is released and, of course, the possibility of losing their lives.

It is inconceivable to think that any person that does not have a strong will immeasurable discipline, as well as a deep sense of patriotism could survive such challenging conditions. Yet the Associated Press reported over the weekend that nearly 1 out of 5 non-combat deaths in Iraq last year were attributed to suicide, many of which were by soldiers that had already been identified as having severe mental illness.

The Defense Department has a policy of disqualification for recruits who exhibit stress and trauma levels beyond the norm. That policy appears to not factor in when evaluating which soldiers should be deployed to combat zones

Col. Elspeth Ritchie, the Army’s top mental health expert said, one of the biggest rationalizations for sending these service members into battle is based on troop shortages.

Said Col. Ritchie, &uot;The challenge for us is that the Army has a mission to fight. And, as you know, recruiting has been a challenge. And so we have to weigh the needs of the Army, the needs of the mission along with the soldiers’ personal needs.&uot;

Obviously the personal needs of the service member are not weighed very heavily against the needs of the armed forces to fill the vacancies being left by service men and women who are leaving the military in record numbers.

Is there a quick fix for replenishing the mass exodus of service members in our armed forces? Probably not, but is sending mentally ill soldiers into the region the answer?

There is no public record of what ranks and titles the approximate three percent of soldiers diagnosed as mentally unstable hold in these combat zones, but one thing is becoming more and more clear and that is that the Pentagon must feel that a person would have to be crazy to want to go fight in Iraq, pun intended.