Should Attempted Suicide Be a Crime?

The McClatchy reports that the military is struggling with dealing with troops that unsuccessfully attempt suicide.

Marine Corps Pvt. Lazzaric T. Caldwell slit his wrists and spurred a legal debate that’s consuming the Pentagon, as well as the nation’s top military appeals court.

On Tuesday, the court wrestled with the wisdom of prosecuting Caldwell after his January 2010 suicide attempt. Though Caldwell pleaded guilty, he and his attorneys now question his original plea and the broader military law that makes “self-injury” a potential criminal offense.

The questions resonate amid what Pentagon leaders have called an “epidemic” of military suicides.

Indeed the military is struggling with a record number of suicides. In October, the number of suicides surpassed the total number of suicides in all of 2011 and continues to climb at a rate of about one per day.

If a service member makes the fateful decision to take his/her own life, there are underlying problems that need to be dealt with. Troops that decide to commit suicide are not thinking clearly. There is something wrong in their minds that needs to be addressed and I don’t think that criminalizing such behavior is going to solve the problem. If anything, it will lead to troops taking steps to ensure that they are successful the first time.

The good (if I can call it that) thing about surviving a suicide is that the military can learn and grow from that event. Troops can receive the help they desperately need while the military can gain insight into what led the service member to decide life was no longer worth living. This would improve our ability to recognize and, hopefully, prevent further suicides in the ranks.

When a soldier is charged with attempted suicide, that only adds to whatever is weighing on his mind. He now has to worry about losing money or time, either or both of which could have led to the act to begin with. The stress of dealing with an Article 15 or Court Martial is perhaps the worst stress behind combat a service member can face.

Since September 11, 2001, there have been over 2,600 suicides in the military. That is a staggering number. As a professional fighting force, we need to get to the root causes of why so many of our nation’s heroes are killing themselves.

I think part of the solution can be found looking at our law enforcement brethren in the civilian world. Any time an officer discharges his weapon or is shot at in many police departments, he is REQUIRED to attend counseling sessions to deal with those life-threatening events. This helps to head off the instances of PTS in the law enforcement community while addressing the traumatic events as they happen.

The military doesn’t work this way; at least, the Army doesn’t. We wait until troops seek help or are ordered to seek help. We rely on these alpha-type personalities to seek the help they need instead of truly recognizing that PTS is a very real possibility. By sending any Soldier that has been shot at, mortared, or had to discharge their weapon for self protection through a regimented counseling session specifically geared towards managing traumatic events and building resiliency, we can hopefully attack the problem before it even manifests itselfs.

Charging troops under the Uniformed Code of Military Justice is not the solution to the problem. Leaders need to think outside the box and take care to ensure these troops get the help they need. They may not be able to continue with their military service, but they do deserve support and understanding.

2 Comments on “Should Attempted Suicide Be a Crime?

  1. Ive thought about suicide more then once and at one point came close to acting…I think if a soldier who is tormented by personal demons (or anyone for that matter) wants to make it all stop why should we punish him for it? If your life was destroyed completely either by not being able to do anything you enjoyed cause of injuries and amputations you have suffered or PTSD and your mentally broken down..would you rather force a soul against his will to be trapped in a prison of agony? Why I dont think Suicide is a right choice and a warrior should always fight on through whatever is thrown at him and I have went through things in my life inside and outside the military that If another had went through and chose to end the suffering I would not blame him or be upset, Those that choose that path though are still heroes and should be counted among the honored dead.

    • Very well said. I have written about my personal battles with PTS and attempted suicide on this blog. Search “suicide” on the main page. Nothing is worth taking your life over.

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