Abu Dhabi, UAEThursday 20 June 2019

US Army Twitter question met with stark responses

The accounts shared raise a lot of questions about quality of care given to US military veterans

Army Pfc Mark Domingo, left, takes an Afghan man's fingerprints in the village of Dande Fariqan, in Afghanistan's Khowst Province in 2012. US Army via AP
Army Pfc Mark Domingo, left, takes an Afghan man's fingerprints in the village of Dande Fariqan, in Afghanistan's Khowst Province in 2012. US Army via AP

A seemingly innocuous question posed by the US military on Twitter this week has gone viral, sparking a conversation about some of the most difficult questions the American armed forces face.

It’s not uncommon for big brands looking for user engagement on social media to poll readers for their opinions and it’s also not uncommon for those answers to be not exactly what the brand had been looking for.

Underneath a short clip of Pfc Nathan Spencer sharing his thoughts on how army life had influenced him – he says it gave him the opportunity to “serve something greater than myself” – the US military official Twitter account on Friday asked followers how serving had impacted them.

While some users responded with answers of the positives of their time in the military – how it had allowed them to get a college education without taking on large debts because of the generous subsidies, loans and grants for university – the vast majority shared stories of their own or loved ones struggles in civilian life after tours of duty.

From those left with little support for injuries – physical and mental – from their time-fighting America’s wars to others who discussed the financial burdens having been in the army, the responses were overwhelmingly of negative experiences.

The tweet had racked up hundreds of comments by Saturday, including a large number about former servicemen and women who had committed suicide after demobilization.

While many of the stories stretched back to veterans of the war in Vietnam in the 1980s, the issue of suicides is ongoing. Last year had the highest suicide rate among active-duty personnel in nearly six years and the same year Joe Chanelly, the executive director of the national veterans group Amvet, said the suicide rate among veterans was “a national emergency.”

The suicide rate between 2005 and 2016 was 1.5 times greater for veterans than for adults who never served in the armed forces. For female veterans, the rate was even higher – 1.8 times greater than their non-veteran counterparts in 2016.

In March this year, US President Donald Trump signed an executive order to create a cabinet task force to tackle the rate of suicide among veterans. He said it would “mobilize every level of American society” to tackle the issue.

Veterans also made up nearly 10 per cent homeless population of the United States in 2017 and although the numbers have been falling in recent years, tens of thousands of former servicemen life on the streets. In January, the American military-focused news website Defence Post reported that with women now allowed to serve in frontline roles and now making up some 15 per cent of the US military, the number of female veterans experiencing homelessness is expected to rise in the coming years.

“I'm only 18 and my dad served 17 years deployed 4 times all with undiagnosed PTSD [post-traumatic stress disorder], that's what my childhood was like,” wrote one user under the US Army’s tweet.

Some of the comments sparked discussions, including people who said they were serving members of the armed forces. After one user said he had been considering enlisting but the thread made him think twice, another user who said they had been in the navy 13 years “and wouldn’t change it for the world” replied to say that it’s important to know what to expect and know you can leave when you no longer enjoy it.

Among the tweets were several pointed at the US Army Twitter simply asking if the replies had been what they were looking for with the post.

“That didn’t go the way you expected huh,” said user abdul.

Updated: May 25, 2019 04:11 PM

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