Military And Veteran Suicides Rise Despite Aggressive Prevention Efforts – But What About Prayer?

Posted by on Sep 4, 2013 in Military Prayer | Comments Off on Military And Veteran Suicides Rise Despite Aggressive Prevention Efforts – But What About Prayer?

By David Wood
Huffington Post

WASHINGTON — The good news: most people with military service never consider suicide. Contrary to popular perception, there is no “epidemic” of military-related suicides — even though President Barack Obama used the word in a speech this summer at the Disabled American Veterans Convention. Among those few whose lives do spiral down toward darkness and despair, the vast majority never take that irrevocable step.

The bad news: the number of military and veteran suicides is rising, and experts fear it will continue to rise despite aggressive suicide prevention campaigns by the government and private organizations.

The Pentagon and Department of Veterans Affairs (VA), already struggling to meet an increasing demand from troops and veterans for mental health services, are watching the suicide rates, and the growing number of those considered “at risk” of suicide, with apprehension.

“It really is extremely concerning,” said Caitlin Thompson, a VA psychologist and clinical care coordinator at the national crisis line for the military and veterans.

The suicide numbers are rising despite a determined push by the Pentagon and the VA to connect troops to a proliferation of resources. These range from immediate crisis intervention, to specific therapy for post-traumatic stress disorder and other forms of trauma, to broader mental health services, peer mentoring, resiliency training, and financial and relationship counseling. VA specialists scour hundreds of places, from NASCAR events to American Indian reservations, for veterans in need. There is such a drive to provide resources that even the Pentagon can’t say how many programs it has or what they cost.

(Read the rest of Huffington Post’s article:

Why Not Try Prayer!?

By Linda Jeffrey, Ed.D.

In 1775, John Adams wrote Rules for the Regulation of the Navy of the United Colonies of North America to create good order and discipline in a newly organized military charged with defeating the most powerful military force in the world.  His first principle defined “Exemplary Conduct;” his second principle required prayer and divine services twice daily.  The U.S. military was established upon virtue, honor, patriotism and prayer. Adams understood armed men needed a unifying moral foundation especially those trained to search and destroy and charged with defending the American way of life.

There is a glaring omission in the August 2010 233-page report on suicide prevention issued by the DoD—it does not mention prayer.  The omission is borne out of ignorance and neglect of military history that clearly points to chaplain and leader-led prayer as the sustenance and encouragement of battle weary soldiers worldwide.  History is replete with examples of the “military necessity” of prayer in the life of all service members.  General J. Lawton Collins, Former Army Chief of Staff, who served in the 1950s on the President’s Committee on Religion and Welfare in the Armed Forces, wrote:

Our present responsibilities of world leadership call for strength in great measure—strength born of physical power and technological skill superiority, and even more, the spiritual strength that is basic to the American way of life.[2]

Guided by the therapeutic professions, the military institution continues to spend millions seeking answers as 50 percent more soldiers have succumbed to suicide than to military action in Afghanistan this year.[3]  Is the best we can come up with for our war-wearied souls today only to be found in psychotropic drugs, cognitive behavioral therapy and NASCAR events? Drugs such as Prozac, Paxil and Zoloft, which boost serotonin levels in the brain, come with warning labels of increased risk of suicide for those up to age 24.  All of these drugs are included in the modern military psychiatrist’s deployment kit, and soldiers are often given a six-month supply of medications.  According to the Army Surgeon General, 8% of active duty soldiers are on sedatives, and more that 6% are on antidepressants, which is an eightfold increase since 2005.[1]  Our soldiers are facing significant stresses with more than 30% of the force having gone on three or more deployments.

Is it because morals and the military’s first principles are divinely based, that they are deemed archaic and unemployable in today’s US Armed Forces?  If the question seems far-fetched to those who think science and pharmaceutical therapies can replace the many features of moral support, they should review the scientific evidence from World War II, a war that saw long deployments and grievous loss of life on both sides in Europe and the Pacific.

 “The Studies in Social Psychology in World War II Series,” produced by the Social Science Research Council, was one of the largest social science research projects in history.  Volume II, The American Soldier, Combat and Its Aftermath, Princeton University Press, (1949), reported data on the importance of prayer to officers and enlisted infantrymen.  Prayer was selected most frequently as the soldier’s source of combat motivation.  The motivation of prayer was selected over the next highest categories of “thinking that you couldn’t let the other men down,” and “thinking that you had to finish the job in order to get home again.”  From the responses, “did not help at all,” “helped some,” and “helped a lot,” 70% of enlisted men in the Pacific Theatre (n = 4,734), and 83% in the Mediterranean theatre (n = 1,766) responded “helped a lot,” as did 60% of Infantry officers (n = 319).

These data would suggest that combat men who had experienced greater stress were at least as likely to say they were helped by prayer as those who had been subjected to less stress” (p. 176)…[T]he fact that such an overwhelming majority of combat men said that prayer helped them a lot certainly means that they almost universally had recourse to prayer and probably found relief, distraction, or consolation in the process (p. 185).  [Emphasis added.]

The founding principles of the military have been all but abandoned, and the thousands of World War II soldiers, who declared prayer to be a primary source of moral support, are forgotten.  Five-star General George C. Marshall was one of America’s foremost soldier during World War II.  He served as Army Chief of Staff from 1939 to 1945, and built and directed the largest army in history.  General Marshall said,

…I look upon the spiritual life of the soldier as even more important than his physical equipment…the soldier’s heart, the soldier’s spirit, the soldier’s soul are everything.  Unless the soldier’s soul sustains him, he cannot be relied upon and will fail himself and his commander and his country in the end.  It’s morale, and I mean morale, which wins the victory in the ultimate, and that type of morale can only come out of the religious fervor in his soul.  I count heavily on that type of man and that kind of Army.[5]

The problem of suicide in the military reflects a loss of moral support to a soul not girded by the prayers and moral support that carried our soldiers, who fought without medication, through bitter battles like Normandy.  Maybe the answer for many of our battle worn troops today is as simple as a prayer.


[1] Murphy, Kim. “A Fog of Drugs and War”.  Los Angeles Times. April 7, 2012.
[2] President’s Committee on Religion and Welfare in the Armed Forces, October 1, 1950, at 13
[3] Suicide Soars Among Troops, Reflecting Cost of U.S. Wars. Robert Burns, Associated Press, June 8, 2012.
[5] Joint Pub 1-05.  Religious Ministry Support for Joint Operations.  Joint Chiefs of Staff.  26 August 1996, p. II-3.

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