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June 24, 2013

HOWEY: The nexus of military assault and suicide

The wars in Iraq and Afghanistan are either over or winding down, but the specters of death and justice have taken a disturbing new tandem twist this year with the issues of U.S. military suicides and sexual assaults within the ranks.

Emerging are the corresponding nexus of the two issues. Though there isn't much data available, a likely link may include sexual assaults that fuel the suicide rate.

The two numbers that have captured the attention of  Sen. Joe Donnelly and Rep. Jackie Walorski are these:

• 349 suicides in 2012, surpassing the 295 American soldiers killed in combat in the Afghanistan theater of operations;

• 26,000 sexual assaults within the 1.8 million military personnel in 2012, according to a Department of Defense survey, while only 3,374 cases were officially reported. These ranged from rape to groping and are a 35-percent increase from the 19,300 cases in a similar report issued in 2010.

In May, President Obama reacted by saying, “It is dangerous to our national security. This goes to the heart and core of who we are and how effective we're going to be.”

Sen. John McCain, a Vietnam POW and former Republican presidential nominee, crystalized the emerging furor by saying he could not recommend the military service for a female.

That is stunning and sad.

Donnelly explained, “This has been an extraordinarily serious issue for a number of years. It is finally at a place where everyone is taking it seriously.” The entire cohesion on the force is based on the intrinsic trust between soldiers and sailors.

Donnelly said that statistics he has seen reveal that a female sexual assault victim in the military is 14 times more likely to consider suicide than other personnel. “This is an incredibly damaging action that has caused people to contemplate suicide, to think about it,” he said. 

For Rep. Walorski, military sexual assault has become a signature issue. In her second week in office, the Jimtown freshman Republican began working on legislation to help victims of sexual violence. She was alerted to the problem during briefings given to members of the House Armed Services Committee.

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