Of military suicides, secrets and drunken drivers

Contributing WriterJuly 1, 2013 

I read a couple of newspapers every day, and sometimes what seems to me like a really big story gets relegated to the back pages and then seems to just fade away. Here are a few that I think merit a second look.

The recent findings about the incidence of suicide among active-duty military personnel got my attention. I was surprised to read that: “The most recent Pentagon data show that a slight majority — 52 percent — of troops who have committed suicide while on active duty were never assigned to Afghanistan or Iraq.”

This data include the years 2008-2011 and it upends “the popular belief that a large increase in suicides over the last decade stems from the psychological toll of combat and repeated deployments to war.” The study postulates that the mental health and life circumstances of our soldiers may be more significant than the pressures of being in the military.

To me, this is a huge story — one worthy of a great deal of media coverage and discussion, but I do not think that’s been the case. Is it because this information is so contrary to popular belief that we simply choose to ignore it?

Another recent story concerned the Obama administration’s response to government security leaks. Apparently, there’s a new national initiative called the Insider Threat Program. This program extends to most federal departments and agencies nationwide, including the Peace Corps, the Social Security Administration, and those hotbeds of espionage, the departments of Education and Agriculture.

Federal workers and contractors must watch for “high-risk persons or behaviors among co-workers.” Failure to report such concerns about one’s colleagues could result in penalties, including criminal charges. It states that, “Leaks to the media are equated with espionage.”

A June 2012 Defense Department statement maintained that “leaking is tantamount to aiding the enemies of the United States.”

What is most noteworthy, it seems to me, is that this refers to “unauthorized disclosures of any information” and not just to classified data. It reminded me of that old Benjamin Franklin quote: “Those who would give up essential liberty to purchase a little temporary safety deserve neither liberty nor safety.”

I’m not sure if I side with the current president or the old statesman on this, but I do know that there should be a great deal more interest in the Insider Threat Program.

Sometimes news reports are just simply incomprehensible to me.

A few months ago, a man named Mark Mullan reportedly drove his vehicle into a family while they were walking in Seattle’s Wedgwood neighborhood. Judy and Dennis Schulte were killed and their daughter-in-law and 10-day-old grandson, Elias, were transported to Harborview Medical Center in critical condition. They are still hospitalized. Mom Karina Ulriksen-Schulte is relearning to walk and talk and little Elias may have lasting developmental impairments.

Prosecutors said in court documents that Mullan was driving with a suspended license and had a blood-alcohol level three times the legal limit. Mullan has at least five previous arrests for driving under the influence. Just within the past year, he’s been arrested on suspicion of DUI twice.

However, Washington law apparently precludes prosecutors or courts from considering convictions further back than seven years when imposing a minimum sentence. Thus, on Jan. 7 of this year, Mullan pleaded guilty to what amounted to a first-offense DUI, more than seven years had passed since his lasest conviction.

The Schulte family did not know any of this. All they did was go for an afternoon walk.

And so I wonder — at a time when legislators are almost unanimously agreed on the need for early childhood education, shouldn’t they first focus on childhood safety? Do lawmakers view chronic offenders as a huge and important voting bloc that they dare not cross?

Provocative, shocking, hopeful — newspapers tie us to the greater world and show us who we are and maybe point the way to who we’d like to be.

Pamela Boyd is a member of The Olympian’s 2013 Board of Contributors. She may be reached at harbortalk@comcast.net.

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