Posted : Friday Aug 24, 2012
A 65-year-old Army veteran is on his sixth day of a hunger strike in Washington, D.C., to push for White House action to address the rising tide of suicides in the military.
Tom Mahany, a former West Point cadet who served as a specialist second class in Vietnam in 1969, wants the Obama administration to create a federal advisory committee to address troops' mental and physical health issues, such as post-traumatic stress disorder, traumatic brain injury and depression, which can contribute to suicide.
Such a committee, Mahany argues, would pull together the many disparate groups and task forces within the government now working on the subject.
"There are 24 different groups working on this — it's like 24,000 people all talking at once. But what are they actually doing? They are still compiling information, not doing," he said from his bench in Lafayette Square, across from the White House.
Mahany, from Royal Oak, Mich., is no stranger to hunger strikes. He participated in his first after returning home from Vietnam and a second in 2009 — also in Lafayette Square in the shade of Clark Mills' statue of Andrew Jackson — to push for an end to stop-loss, the military's policy of keeping troops on active duty past their normal separation or retirement dates for wartime duty.
That strike lasted 29 days and ended with assurances from the Senate Armed Services Committee that stop-loss would be phased out. The services began eliminating the use of stop-loss in 2010.
Mahany launched his current strike after learning of a spike in suicides reported by the Army and Marine Corps last month. According to Army statistics, the service had 38 confirmed or suspected suicides in July; the Marine Corps had eight.
The issue of military and veterans suicide is personal for Mahany. His brother-in-law, a Marine veteran of the Vietnam War, killed himself in 1990, leaving behind a wife and two sons.
"This is a public issue. For every person who commits suicide, there's a family affected by it for a lifetime," Mahany said.
He plans to spend his mornings in Lafayette Square and his afternoons resting. He said he has been in touch with White House officials and hopes the administration will respond.
"The Clinton Administration had a federal advisory committee for Gulf War syndrome and there are several advisory committees on breast cancer. Why don't we have one for this?"