News broke yesterday that, according to numbers obtained by the Associated Press, 2012 saw a record rate of military suicides, with 349 service men and women taking their own lives.
That means more soldiers, marines, airmen and sailors killed themselves than died fighting in Afghanistan over the year.
The startling number prompted me to revisit Keegan Hamilton's feature story, Mind Fields, which examined how pervasive the psychological effects war are.
If you missed the story, I recommend you give it a read, but to sum up, Hamilton focuses in on a condition called "secondary PTSD," "a little-known, vaguely defined condition something like the mental-health equivalent of secondhand smoke."
A stateside spouse who witnessed her husband die via a Skype feed to Afghanistan and a soldier who returned from the battlefield without intense combat experience but still obviously troubled were two of Hamilton's examples when exploring how far reaching the military's mental health crisis is.
And when discussing the military's handling of the cases - which is sketchy to say the least - suicide has been one of the biggest indicators of the military's shortcomings and focuses of policymakers.
Partly in response to the spate of suicides and war atrocities committed by soldiers stationed at JBLM that led Stars and Stripes to brand JBLM "the most troubled base in the military," Washington Senator Patty Murray has introduced legislation that would overhaul the military's PTSD assessment processes and significantly expand eligibility for government-funded mental-health counseling to include soldiers' immediate family members.
In June, Sen. Murray introduced the Mental Health ACCESS Act of 2012 in the wake of the scandal at Madigan and the appallingly high suicide rate in the military. (On average, one active-duty service member commits suicide each day, and, since the war in Afghanistan began, more U.S. military personnel have died by suicide than in combat there.) Murray's legislation proposes comprehensive, standardized suicide-prevention programs, expanded peer-counseling opportunities for veterans, and increased oversight of the military's mental-health system. One section of the bill would expand counseling services to cover soldiers far removed from the battlefield, including pilots of remote-controlled, unmanned aerial drones; military morticians working "outside the theater of combat operations"; and the mental-health professionals who themselves tend to the troops' psyches.
But the overarching question that Hamilton poses and asks us as a society to ponder: are we going to take this crisis seriously and do what it takes to fix it?
I don't like the answer that 2012 provides.