On average, 22 U.S. military veterans end their lives every single day. They couldn’t reacclimate to the life they deserted prior to experiencing the horrors of war, for which many veterans never seek help. They’ve been mentally trained to not show weakness and they’d rather die than admit they’re in the emotional dumpster. But these are veterans. Let’s look at the active-duty ranks.
Though the numbers aren’t as high, the same tragic problem has cropped up among active-duty troops. But let’s narrow it down further to the U.S. Army and, then, take it a step further to Fort Wainwright, Alaska.
2021 saw a historically high number of Army active-duty suicides as it is. But of the roughly 11,000 soldiers stationed in Alaska, 17 died by suicide. This number is highly disproportionate to the Army’s many other worldwide locations.
A bipartisan trio of lawmakers has been assigned to look into the concerning matter. Their first step was in drafting a letter to Army Secretary Christine Wormouth telling her to step up her game. The issue will not fix itself.
Alaska Republican senators Lisa Murkowski and Dan Sullivan along with California Democratic Rep. Jackie Spier all signed the letter with its clear-cut message, “we are failing our service members.” Spier is also chair of the House military personnel subcommittee.
The letter stated, “Service members stationed in Alaska are under an outsized level of stress from several angles, including behavioral health specialist shortages, financial challenges, infrastructure and transportation limitations, and the adjustment to living in a remote location with [sic] extreme cold weather.”
The Congressional trio addressed the eleven empty mental health positions in which no attempts have been made to fill at the remote post of Fort Wainwright just outside of Fairbanks. They pulled the grenade’s plug concerning the undue amount of red tape delaying soldiers in the Pacific region from receiving virtual therapy.
As silly as it may sound, the lawmakers said that possible issues could be contributed to things that “are relatively simple problems like widespread Vitamin D deficiency.” This would be an easy fix by installing UV lights that the Army already has in their inventory, except no one has ever bothered to look into the matter.
Fairbanks is not an inexpensive area, even when living on an Army post, and soldiers that far away from home naturally want to stay in touch with friends and family via the internet. Plus, a great number of them take internet-based college courses at Uncle Sugar’s expense. It’s why they signed up in the first place.
The team suggested that the Army help alleviate some of the soldiers’ undue financial stress by “establishing a monthly special ‘Arctic Pay’ of $300 per month…[and] a special monthly allowance to offset the difference between the cost of an uncapped internet plan in Alaska and the average monthly internet cost in CONUS.”
Other simple yet sensible suggestions were to offer soldiers a duty assignment of preference following their Alaskan tour and to not make them stay there so long. Offering extra promotion points for soldiers who volunteer to serve in Alaska was another suggestion.
The answers might be as simple as the team has thus far suggested, or the reasons for the suicidal uptick might run much deeper, but at least someone is trying to figure things out. It only took an act of Congress and too many lives to do it. Hooah. “Thank you for your service.”