Article 43

 

Tuesday, November 03, 2009

Military Suicide Crisis

The War Condolences Obama Hasnt Sent

By Amy Goodman
TruthDig
October 27, 2009

U.S. Army Reserve Spc. Chancellor Keesling died in Iraq on June 19, 2009, from “a non-combat related incident,” according to the Pentagon. Keesling had killed himself. He was just one in what is turning out to be a record year for suicides in the U.S. military.

In August, President Barack Obama addressed the Veterans of Foreign Wars convention, saying, [T]here is NOTHING MORE SOBERING than signing a letter of condolence to the family of [a] serviceman or -woman who has given their life for our country.Ӕ To their surprise, Jannett and Gregg Keesling, Chances parents, wonҒt be getting such a letter. Obama does not writecondolence letters to loved ones of those who commit suicide in the theater of combat. [After making inquiries, the Keeslings discovered that this was not because of an oversight. Instead, its because of a longstanding U.S. policy to deny presidential condolence letters to the families of soldiers who take their own lives.]

Jannett told me: “Chancellor was recruited right out of high school, and this was something he was passionate about, joining the military. I wanted him to go to college, but he said that he wanted to be a soldier.” Gregg added: “We had doubts about him joining. ... When the war broke out in 2003, when many of us were trying to retreat,” Chancy decided, “This is my duty.” ... But once he did his first tour ... his marriage broke up during that deployment.

Chance was very troubled during his first tour of duty in Iraq, although he performed admirably by all accounts. At one point he was put on a suicide watch and had his ammunition taken away for a week. After Iraq, Chance declined a $27,000 reenlistment bonus and transitioned to the U.S. Army Reserves, hoping to avoid another deployment. He sought and was receiving treatment at a Veterans Affairs facility. Gregg said, “We sat down as a family, and we said, President Obama is going to be elected, and President Obama will end this war, and you wonђt have to go.” But then his sons orders to deploy came again.

Current laws prevent transfer of mental health information from active-duty military to the reserves, so Chance’s commanders did not know of his previous struggles. Last June, troubled again, he sent his parents a dire e-mail, mentioning suicide. Jannett recalled: “I spoke to Chancellor the night before he died for about four minutes. And as always, he wore a really tough exterior. ... But what he did tell me that night is that he was going to have a very long, difficult day. His conversation was quite brief. Normally he would say that he loves me, and he would say goodbye. But this time he simply hung up.”

The next morning, Gregg said, Chance locked himself in the latrine and took his own life, with his M-4 ... our grief is deep. “The letter won’t stop [our pain]we’ll still be hollow inside for the rest of our lives, but the acknowledgment from the president that our son gave his life in service to the causes of the United States is important to us.”

The Pentagon admits to a mounting suicide crisis in its ranks. Numbers of acknowledged suicides have steadily climbed, from fewer than 100 in 2005, by one report, to nearly 200 in 2008, with a like number among Iraq and Afghanistan veterans. Gregg Keesling said that when he and Jannett went to Dover Air Force Base to greet Chance’s coffin, a master sergeant encouraged him to speak out, saying: I’m greeting a suicide body almost every day. Theres something going on.”

The Keeslings credit Maj. Gen. Mark Graham with helping them through their grief, and working to reduce the stigma of suicide within the military. One of Grahams sons committed suicide in 2003, while studying as an Army ROTC cadet in college. His other son, also in the Army, deployed to Iraq months later and was killed by a bomb not long thereafter. But the GI Rights Hotline, which advises active-duty soldiers on options for leaving the military, says outside psychological professionals can help suicidal soldiers obtain a medical discharge: “The military wants to know whether the patient can perform their duties without causing trouble, embarrassment or expense. His or her welfare is distinctly less important.”

The United States is ENGAGED in two intractable, massive military occupations, with no end in sight. Obama should certainly writeletters of condolence to the Keeslings and to others whose loved ones have found that the only sure way to end the living hell of war, or to escape the horror of its aftermath, is to kill themselves. But an immediate withdrawal from the wars Obama inherited is the only way to stem the bleeding.

Denis Moynihan contributed research to this column.

Amy Goodman is the host of Democracy Now!, a daily international TV/radio news hour airing on more than 800 stations in North America. She is the author of “Breaking the Sound Barrier”, recently released in paperback.

SOURCE

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Suicide Rate Among Vets and Active Duty Military Jumps - Now 22 A Day

By Melanie Haiken
Forbes
February 5, 2013

A veteran protests the veteran suicide rate, which just jumped from 18 to 22 a day

Almost once an hour every 65 minutes to be precise - a military veteran commits suicide - says a new investigation by the Department of Veterans Affairs. By far the most extensive study of veteran suicides ever conducted, the report, issued Friday, examined suicide data from 1999 to 2010.

The data was then compared with a previous investigation primarily an estimation - that had been conducted over the same time period, and had found a suicide rate of 18 per day.

Many of these suicides involve older veterans; 69 percent of the suicides recorded were by veterans age 50 and older. But another way to look at this is that 31 percent of these suicides were by veterans 49 and younger. In other words,by men in the prime of life.

And then there are the shockingly common active duty suicides. Just two weeks ago, the military released data showing that suicides among those on active duty hit a record high in 2012. There were 349 suicides among active duty personnel almost one a day. That means there are now more suicides among active duty soldiers than there are combat deaths.

Im not a statistician, but the information released about how the data were gathered suggests that these numbers may still be considerably underestimated. Suicides often go unreported as cause of death due to the stigma. And the data collected were from just 21 states, because these are the only states in which military status is listed on the death certificate. They were then extrapolated to apply to all 50 states.

Veteran suicide is not a new issue the various branches of the military have been raising awareness and increasing proactive treatment programs for veteran suicide for the past couple of years. But thatҖs partly what makes the new reports so upsetting they appear to show that veteran suicides remain undeterred by current efforts.

The Department of Veterans Affairs has a new crisis line and website with multiple avenues, including text and online chat, for those contemplating suicide to reach out. The site also offers extensive information and resources for families and friends to help them spot the warning signs of depression and suicidal thinking and take action.

ccording to this weekҖs press release, the crisis line has already resulted in saving 26,000 veterans from suicide. Thats wonderful news Ғ except that the fact that 26,000 vets are actively suicidal is deeply disturbing.

President Obama signed an executive order on August 31st authorizing the VA to hire additional staff and double the capacity of the crisis line. Lets hope that helps.

It֒s important to note that the suicide rate overall in the United States has been rising, and veterans actually make up fewer suicide cases proportionately than they did 25 years ago. While the suicide rate in the U.S. has risen 31 percent since 1999, the rate among veterans has risen 22 percent in the same period. So according to calculations offered in a New York Times report, the percentage of the nations suicides that involve veterans is now 21 percent, down from 25 percent in 1999.

But yikes Ғ whether the number is one in five or one in four, its still pretty shocking that veterans make up such a high proportion of suicides in this country. Veterans affairs experts explain this by saying that veterans fall into high-risk groups for suicide, which include being male, having access to guns, and living in a rural area, but those factors don֒t seem to come close to accounting for such a high rate.

I covered this subject previously as part of a report about service dogs and how they are helping veterans cope with depression and mental illness. One statistic that veterans groups offered at the time: for every veteran killed by enemy combattants, 25 veterans kill themselves.

But note: that comparison was based on the prior suicide data, so todayҒs comparison would be even more extreme. Heres hoping the new campaign of public awareness and new efforts to investigate veteran suicide will result in greater access to mental health services for all veterans.

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Posted by Elvis on 11/03/09 •
Section Dying America
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A Free Credit Score Followed by a Monthly Bill

By Ron Lieber
NY Times
November 2, 2009

On television its hard to miss the wildly popular band of slackers singing ruefully from a shabby apartment or while waiting tables in pirate regalia. The ruined credit that led to their financial misfortune might have been sparkling if only theyҒd tracked their status on freecreditreport dot com.

The Federal Trade Commission is not amused. It has long believed that the company that owns FREECREDITREPORT is deliberately diverting people from a government-mandated site where consumers can get free credit reports by law, and using the reports as a lure for a $14.95 monthly service that alerts subscribers to important changes in their credit status.

In an unusual salvo, the government has even produced its own spoof videos featuring a trio remarkably similar to the gang in the earlier commercials, singing a warning:
Other sites may turn your head; they say they’re free, dont be misled. Once you’re in their tangled web, theyll sell you something else instead.”

But while the government has taken issue with the ads, it has had little to say about credit monitoring services themselves, a rapidly expanding niche approaching $1 billion in sales for which millions of people have signed up, often unwittingly. The problem, say critics, is that most people really dont need it.

Credit monitoring provides customers with real-time updates about changes to their credit files that might affect how lenders see them. These services can be useful for identity theft victims, for example, who want e-mail alerts about new accounts that thieves might have opened in their name.

Yet for the vast majority of consumers whose credit status doesnҒt change quickly or drastically, a monitoring service is a waste of money, these critics say. Keeping a close eye on your bills and checking your credit report several times a year is enough.

And that can be done without spending a penny because the government requires the three major credit bureaus Experian, which owns freecreditreport.com, Equifax and TransUnion ח to provide one free report annually to consumers.

Does the average person really need to see their credit reports more than once every four months? Do you need to look at it daily?Ӕ asked Edgar Dworsky, founder of ConsumerWorld.org and a former member of Experians consumer advisory panel, referring to credit monitoring services. ғThats paranoia.Ҕ

While OTHER COMPANIES SELL CREDIT MONITORING too, EXPERIAN is the biggest player in the lucrative niche of selling monthly monitoring. Nine million people are spending a total of $650 million to $700 million annually on the services, according to Carter Malloy, a Stephens Inc. analyst. Experians market share is more than twice that of its three main competitors combined. To replenish its rolls, the company relies heavily on its slacker ads, spending $54 million in 2008 to blanket the airwaves, according to TNS Media Intelligence.

The monitoring business is profitable enough that big credit card companies, including Capital One and Discover, now partner with Experian to sell private-label versions of the monitoring service directly to their customers, taking a cut of the fees and giving the rest to Experian.

So far, the F.T.C. has focused mostly on the free credit report come-on. In the last five years, Experian has paid $1.25 million to settle F.T.C. charges that it misled consumers who may have been seeking their free credit report at AnnualCreditReport.com, but ended up paying for a subscription on the similarly named freecreditreport.com.

Still, Experian continued to spend heavily on marketing that played to the anxiety many Americans feel about their credit amid the financial crisis. In an attempt to counter it, Congress attached a measure to a recently passed credit card reform law directing the F.T.C. to press sites like freecreditreport.com to provide more prominent disclosures.

Ty Taylor, president of Experian’s Consumer Direct division, said the companys process was transparent. “You get a free credit report and free score for test-driving our product,” he said, referring to the credit monitoring service. “We’ve always felt that it’s been very upfront and a fair opportunity for the consumer to become more aware and comfortable with the credit reporting concept.”

Profiting From Confusion

Twenty years ago, the only way for most consumers to get a sense of their credit history was by buying their credit report from credit bureaus or getting it free if a lender rejected a loan because of something in the report. Credit reports contain, among other things, a list of past and current creditors and a record of the borrowerԒs payment history.

Meanwhile, a company called Fair Isaac had invented an algorithm for what is known as the FICO credit score. Scores range from 300 to 850 and helped lenders create high-priced loans for people with checkered histories while reserving the best rates for people with high scores.

The FICO score grew in importance in the mid-1990s as Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac encouraged mortgage lenders to use them. Around the same time, a company called ConsumerInfo.com began selling credit monitoring. It acquired the freecreditreport.com domain name and gave out free credit reports (and, eventually, free credit scores) if consumers subscribed to the monitoring service. Experian bought the company in 2002.

The next year, to grant consumers better access to their credit information and allow them to check for errors, Congress required the three credit bureaus to give one free credit report to every American each year. Almost immediately, however, consumers started confusing the government-authorized site, AnnualCreditReport.com, with Experians freecreditreport.com site. Smelling opportunity, Experian bought ads on Google and other sites that diverted some people looking for their legally mandated credit reports.

At one point, the F.T.C. asked Experian to give it the freecreditreport.com URL to end the confusion, but the company declined. ғExperian was not going to give it up, said a spokeswoman, noting that the site had been in operation for years. The F.T.C. has since set up its own site at freecreditreport.gov.

Evan Hendricks, who used to serve on the consumer advisory panel for Experian and is now the editor and publisher of Privacy Times, said the company knew the Web siteԒs name would sow confusion.

We had these roaring debates, saying you canӒt call it freecreditreport.com because its not free,Ҕ said Mr. Hendricks, who has also been an expert witness on behalf of consumers suing to correct errors in their reports and has testified against Experian. We had put them on notice,Ӕ he said. But the money spoke louder.Ӕ

Peg Smith, Experians executive vice president of investor relations, said the company had to balance such feedback ғagainst the overall needs of the nine million customers we already have, plus the overall commercial needs. Experian allows users to cancel the monitoring service during a brief free trial period and keep the free credit report.

High Turnover

In many ways, this is the perfect moment for companies like Experian to convince consumers that they need to track their credit closely. Many people who fell behind on bills in the economic maelstrom worry about how their credit report will look to lenders now. A number of employers reject candidates with poor credit, too.

Even millions of the most careful consumers worry that they may not have escaped recent damage to their credit files: card issuers, in an attempt to limit risk, have cut credit limits, canceled dormant accounts and made other moves that can harm credit scores.

Preeti Sharma, a 36-year-old information technology manager in Princeton, N.J., signed up for Experian’s monitoring service when she and her husband were seeking a mortgage and worried about surprises that could increase their interest rate. “It brings in another angle that you don’t think about on a daily basis,” she said. Some, including Ms. Sharma, stick with the service afterward.

“Consumers just have an insatiable appetite to know what other people know about them,” said Don Robert, Experian’s chief executive.

But many customers who sign up for credit monitoring quickly drop it. Michael Schwartz, 63, a retiree in Little Silver, N.J., canceled his Experian subscription after he realized he was paying a charge for a tool he didnt need. With his house and cars paid off, and his children no longer in school, “its not really going to be critical to check credit on a monthly basis,” he added. Experian declined to provide turnover figures, but it said the average enrollment of a monitoring subscriber was under a year.

That is one reason its growing library of commercials is critical to replenishing its subscriber base and revenue, especially among the younger demographic profiled in the ads.

Philip Neustrom, a 25-year-old software engineer in San Francisco, canceled the Experian service after paying six months of $14.95 monthly fees and never using the monitoring. “I knew they had roped me into this thing after I started getting these e-mails,” he said. It took him a while to get around to canceling, he added, because he was busy and “there are only so many things you can do in a day.”

John Ulzheimer, who spent 13 years working for two rivals, said companies like Experian counted on consumers behaving this way. “It says it’s free in the song, but if you don’t cancel, then you start getting hit with a very nominal fee,” he said. “Consumers are busy, and studies have shown that they donӒt do a very good job scouring their credit card statements. And they’ll generally discount a charge that is very low.”

A Big Moneymaker

All of this has been good for Experian. At a time when many other financial services firms were struggling, revenue in its consumer credit business grew 20 percent in North America during the 12 months ended March 31. Experian said sales grew about 10 percent in the six months that ended Sept. 30 compared with the same period last year.

But even for its most useful function spotting identity theft ח credit monitoring is not foolproof, because evidence doesnt always appear on credit reports or set off an alert. Thieves can evade notice when opening new bank accounts in a victimҒs name, running up charges on existing accounts or using a victims identity to obtain medical care.

Consumers who donҒt want to pay for monitoring can get one of their three free annual reports from each credit bureau every four months. New services like Credit dot com, where Mr. Ulzheimer is the president of its educational services arm, CreditKarma and Quizzle can also provide free credit snapshots, though they generally dont alertcustomers to changes in their reports.

Last month, in the wake of the new credit card legislation, the F.T.C. proposed that companies like Experian that market free credit reports show customers an entirely separate Web page before they enter credit card information and sign up for credit monitoring. The page would remind them that AnnualCreditReport.com is the only federally authorized site for free reports.

Experian, which has a less prominent disclosure, declined to predict how many subscribers a rule like that could cost it.

But for people like Alex Salb, a 22-year-old freelance copywriter in San Francisco, greater disclosure would not change perceptions about the underlying nature of the business.

He went to freecreditreport dot com during his apartment hunt. But once he understood that the true purpose of the site was to hook people into a continuing monitoring subscription, he backed away. “Its a big moneymaker. I’ve seen it from the inside,” said Mr. Salb, who used to sell subscriptions for personal life coaching.

“And its intentional. It’s not a slip-up on their part.”

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Posted by Elvis on 11/03/09 •
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