After being sent into the hell of war on repeated deployments to Iraq and Afghanistan, veterans deserve better than the purgatory of a grinding, callous bureaucracy.
The increase in military suicides is a sign of a system that is cracking under the demands of two lengthy wars.
Service members are falling to suicide this year at a rate of one a day — more than are dying at the hands of enemy combatants in Afghanistan and more than in recent years.
Suicide is an extreme expression of a range of psychological and physical ills, including alcoholism, drug abuse and domestic violence, besetting veterans of Iraq and Afghanistan and their families.
The time it takes to qualify for benefits and treatment has actually increased since the scandalous neglect of veterans at Walter Reed Army Medical Center was exposed five years ago, said Senate Veteran Affairs Committee Chair Patty Murray, D-Wash., at a hearing Wednesday.
Murray said victims of post-traumatic stress disorder who fought in Iraq and Afghanistan are being labeled as malingerers by military officials and sent into the civilian world with no treatment.
In response to such concerns and the alarming suicide numbers published last week, Defense Secretary Leon Panetta said he has ordered every branch of the military to review how it diagnoses mental health disorders. The Army has already undertaken such a review.
Better than nothing, we suppose, but it's still a tinkering response when a major overhaul is needed.
The psychological and physical effects of combat, especially the closed head injuries produced by hidden explosives in the Mideast wars, explain many of the suicides.
But far from all of them: there have been more suicides by military members who have never deployed than by those who have been in combat.
Aside from the humanitarian and moral obligations to our service men and women, the alarming rate of suicide among active-duty personnel raises troubling questions about the military's readiness and management.
Without a military draft, sacrifice for the post-9/11 wars has been closely held.
Unlike earlier wars, Americans were not asked to pay the financial costs of rooting al-Qaida from Afghanistan or for the misadventure in Iraq. Instead of raising taxes as we've done to pay for every other war, we got more tax cuts.
On Wednesday, Panetta also said it had been a mistake to wage the Iraq war on borrowed money.
"You just put the burden on our kids for the future," he said. Officials and citizens must instead "realize that we all bear that burden."
Members of the all-volunteer military, who have borne the burden of multiple deployments for all of us, should not also have to fight a military establishment that is apathetic and sometimes outright hostile to their wounds and needs.