The Scarlet Vest

by Chris Bodenner

US soldiers on suicide watch are often forced to wear orange or red vests to set them apart from their camouflaged brethren. Elspeth Reeve reports:

The purpose of the vest is, ostensibly, to make it easy for others to keep an eye on a suicidal soldier, but forcing a soldier to advertise his own depression creates a powerful stigma. "When you see what happens to someone on suicide watchthe orange vest, the trips to the chaplain, the drill sergeant talking about them when they're not there, saying they can't handle the military. … When you see that, you're going to think twice about speaking up and saying you need some help. ... You don't want to be like that guy," the recruit from Benning says.

"I can't think of anything worse in the ethos of the military," says Polly Coe, a therapist who treats soldiers stationed at Fort Campbell, in Kentucky. Singling out suicidal soldiers, she says, "makes them more suicidal."