Experts in military and veteran suicide issues are criticizing National Rifle Association board member Ted Nugent for claiming that veterans are committing suicide because they believe President Obama “is the enemy.”
As reported by Right Wing Watch, during a speech at a Lincoln Day Dinner in Arizona last week, Nugent said, “20 - 25 of those guys kill themselves every day, and they haven't told you why, and they haven't told anybody else why, but they told me why: because the Commander-in-Chief is the enemy.”
Nugent has made similar claims in the past. In 2013, during an appearance on conspiracy theorist Alex Jones' radio show, he said that veterans were killing themselves in part because Obama was “violating” the Constitution.
Several experts in military suicides strongly criticized Nugent for distorting the facts and misleading the public with his “ridiculous” commentary.
“I don't know what he's talking about, it's a distorted view of the epidemiology, of the suicide epidemiology,” said Mark Kaplan, a UCLA professor of social welfare who worked with a blue-ribbon panel on veterans suicide convened by the Veterans Administration in 2008 under the George W. Bush administration. “It's politicizing the serious public health problem and it is a disservice to the men and women who serve this country. The president has done more in the last few years than any other administration has done to try to understand and prevent suicide in the veteran population.”
Craig J. Bryan, executive director of the National Center for Veterans Studies at the University of Utah, agreed.
“It's a pretty ridiculous comment,” he said. “First off, there's absolutely no scientific evidence backing that up. Suicide is much more complex than simply being angry at a politician. We have been studying suicide for close to eight or nine years on military personnel and veterans and I've never heard a single military person use that as a reason they were suicidal or want to kill themselves.”
Bryan later suggested comments like Nugent's end up hurting the veterans he purports to support. “We're at a point where we are actually making progress, comments like this kind of demeans the suffering of service members and veterans. It belittles the suffering of family members,” he said. “It's a distraction, it redirects attention away from what we actually do know and what we do understand about military and veteran suicides. It is such an off-base comment, I can't help but think that it really undermines and minimizes the real health condition.”
Rachel Yehuda, director of the Traumatic Stress Studies Division at the Mount Sinai School of Medicine, has studied veteran suicides. She said Nugent lacks understanding of the issue.
“Veterans have been at greater risk than non-veterans for taking their own lives since the Vietnam War,” she said. “As a society we have to understand difficulties veterans face during deployment and as they readjust back to civilian life and make needed resources available so that other options can be exercised.”
For Joe Davis, public affairs director of the Veterans of Foreign Wars, Nugent's views are not helpful.
“What veterans, service members and their families need is greater access to people who care, be they trained mental health counselors or peer support, whose relevance spans generations,” he said. “What they don't need is anyone using this nationwide crisis to make political hay.”