Zachary Antoyan is a political science junior and Mustang Daily liberal columnist.

“I still have violent nightmares and wake up violent and panicking … My worst days are the days after one of my dreams. I wake up and my zeal for life is gone,” Spc. Lance Pilgrim said.

In 2007, Pilgrim died from an accidental overdose after his 2003 tour of duty in Iraq. After his post-traumatic stress disorder began to control his life, he was Other Than Honorably Discharged. He wrote a letter to the Veterans Affairs describing the condition he was in, and received no help.

With no benefits, Lance was left to treat his PTSD with pain killers, something he became dependent on. Pilgrim was 26 years old.

Difficult discussion incoming:

The Associated Press (AP) recently reported on the casualties as a result of our continued involvement in the Middle East. For about half of my life, I have been told that our presence there is necessary — we’ve all been told this. No, we never had to believe it, but our cognitive dissonance was never strong enough to push us to action.

For me, the camel’s back broke a while ago, but these numbers just recently reported make me wonder: what the &%$# are we doing? In 2012, there were more suicide deaths of United States servicemen and women than combat fatalities. The mere thought that more troops died by their own hand than in live action scares the hell out of me. This stigma of negligence needs to be reevaluated.

They’re just numbers though, right? These aren’t people we will ever meet, and whatever was ailing them must not be a huge problem.

Three hundred and forty-nine. The number by itself appears insignificant. It’s a figure. A statistic. But, this is not just a number, this is 349 people. Men and women our age, individuals, life stories and families. And we failed, each and every one of them.

Of the $600 billion we spend on the military annually, less than one-twelfth of that lump sum goes to medical programs. One can only assume that only a small percentage of this is dedicated to mental health, especially after active duty.

This spread and statistics indicate that there is something utterly wrong with the way we deal with mental illness in our military. Our continued negligence of this issue only shows how uncommitted we are to veterans and active duty servicepeople.

They’ll tell you they are working on a solution. They’ll tell you they have instituted new programs to help those in need. They’ll tell you things are going to get better. I am in no position to say if things indeed are getting better, but if we can take anything away from the AP report, it is that there has been little progress. And the fact that this statistic hasn’t spurred any extra resulting action only proves that for those in power, 349 really is just a statistic.

We may revisit this issue in depth in the future, but for now, I’m just going to leave you with the numbers above and this question: When you see those numbers, what do you really see?

This is Zachary Antoyan, promising next week won’t be so serious. Have a fantastic week.

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