Military Deaths and Questions We Should All Be Asking

Military Deaths and Questions We Should All Be Asking

May 10, 2010 ~ USA Today has released a tool to help us better understand the cause for military deaths during OIF and OEF.  (Behind the Numbers – American casualties in Iraq, Afghanistan, and beyond). This presentation allows us to take a closer look at the American servicemembers who have died in Afghanistan, Iraq, and in other related conflicts around the world.  The official deaths are confirmed by the Pentagon and “may be different than numbers that appear in media reports due to delays in Pentagon confirmation and/or inclusion of deaths outside of Iraq and Afghanistan.”

You can select different categories and search for statistics.  Not only will you find numbers, but you are able to click on the individuals who come up in the search results. After spending some time looking at the tool, doing a few searches, and reviewing some of the search results, I’ve come up with a few unanswered questions.

I was interested to see that the category, SUICIDE, is not listed.  There are 58 categories listed*, if I counted correctly, but “suicide” is not one of them.  Why not?  I’m pretty sure a few lives have been lost in this devastating way.  For some reason, suicide is considered a non-combat related death.  Seems to me that combat has certainly taken its toll on our servicemembers with the rise in the suicide rate over the past few years. Suicide is combat related and that, my friends, should be considered a no-brainer when it takes place in a war zone.  While we are on the subject of suicide, it is my opinion that these statistics will never be accurate until all military and veteran suicides are counted as “combat-related” deaths. If the individual saw multiple deployments and/or had a history of displaying symptoms of Post Traumatic Stress Disorder combat is likely the primary factor leading up to the suicide.

I am now led to ask another question. I would imagine that illness would also be considered non-combat related, yet those deaths appear to be included.  I agree these deaths should be included if someone died from an illness while in harm’s way, but why not include suicide?

The two categories of “Unknown” and “Other” are interesting to review.  When I asked to see deaths with the cause “Unknown” many were brought to my attention.  Some were listed as “Unknown”, but others were listed as “Accident”, “Illness/disease” or “Combat”.  Is there a problem with the way the tool retrieves information, or is it unknown how the accident or illness caused a death?  What about those listed with the cause “combat”?

What I find even more curious is that there seem to be so many deaths categorized as “unknown”?  Doesn’t someone do an autopsy if it can’t easily be determined as to how a servicemember died?  Do the families of these servicemembers have closure?  Are the “unknown” deaths those we would tag as suicides or does suicide, perhaps fall under the category of “other”?  If you check out deaths caused by “other” you will find the same variety of listings which also include “homicide”.

Homicide……another interesting cause of death.  Why are some deaths listed by specific cause such as RPG, Explosion, or IED, and others listed with the cause of death being homicide?  If they aren’t suicides, aren’t they all considered homicides? In war, aren’t lives deliberately taken by others?  Perhaps it isn’t “unlawful” in combat therefore, these deaths don’t fit that description.  In that case, does that mean these servicemembers were killed by their own?  “Homicide” must mean something different from “friendly fire”.  Perhaps this refers to a death which occurred on base, caused because two people just couldn’t get along????

I commend the efforts by USA Today to give us a picture and some insight into thousands of lives lost in OIF and OEF, however, for those of us who are taking the time to utilize this tool, it gives us cause to ask even more questions.  I’ll admit that I probably look at this situation from a different perspective than most, but I’ve attended far too many funerals for combat Marines who have committed suicide.  Today marks the one year anniversary of the death of Sgt. Tom Bagosy, USMC.  I know his family, and I’ve had a small glimpse into the drastic way their lives have been forever changed.

I leave you with these final queries.

How many more deserve to be listed because their combat-related suicide was not recognized as a combat-related death?

How many people will actually utilize this tool and spend any time pondering the significance and the lasting effects of each and every life listed within its report?

Originally published by the author at


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