NEW YORK (Agencies): The mental health crisis within the U.S. military is escalating, with suicides becoming the second leading cause of death among service personnel. A recent study has linked this crisis to the risk of brain injuries incurred by personnel firing weapons, even without direct deployment.
A New York Times investigation focused on troops firing artillery rounds against the Islamic State in Iraq and Syria, revealing that many developed severe mental and physical issues. Troops from the Alpha Battery, 1st Battalion, 11th Marines, returned home with nightmares, panic attacks, depression, and hallucinations after their artillery fire missions. Similar symptoms were observed in other Marine and Army artillery units.
Despite not being directly involved in frontline combat, the common factor among affected troops was firing a large number of artillery rounds. The U.S. military’s strategic decision to rely on air strikes and artillery fire against the Islamic State led to small crews firing a massive number of high-explosive shells.
The force generated by these artillery rounds sent shock waves through the bodies of crew members, impacting their brains and causing physical trauma. A battery with four howitzers and about 100 troops could deliver a relentless barrage, resulting in a significant number of rounds per crew member.
As the problems persisted, the Marine Corps investigated and found that their weapons were causing harm to the gunners. The shock waves from the artillery blasts rattled bones, punched lungs and hearts, and affected the brains of crew members. More than half of the Marines in the battery eventually received diagnoses of traumatic brain injuries.
The experience in Syria highlighted that firing a high number of rounds day after day could incapacitate crews faster than combat replacements could be trained to replace them. This revelation sheds light on the alarming suicide rate in the military, which is three times the national average.
Recent Navy studies also support these findings, linking blast exposure to an increased risk of various mental health issues among service members. The blasts’ impact on brain tissue, causing microscopic scarring and potential neural connection failures, is considered a significant contributing factor to the mental health crisis among U.S. troops.