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Ten months into 2012, the number of suspected suicides by active-duty soldiers has surpassed last year’s total, even as the Pentagon struggles to stem the persistent problem.
According to the Army, there were 20 possible suicides in October, bringing the total for the year to 166 – one more than the total for 2011. The 20 suspected soldier suicides in October is also a spike, compared to 15 in September.
U.S. Army officials have been worried about the pace of suicides this year and were concerned the numbers would surge higher than last year despite efforts to increase programs and outreach. In late September, the Army ordered a service-wide “stand down” requiring soldiers to put aside their usual duties and spend time discussing suicide prevention, including how to identify signs of trouble with their comrades.
Military leaders have wrestled with ways to identify factors that trigger suicides. While it has been linked to combat stress, many of the suicide victims are soldiers who have never deployed. Other pressures, including marital, financial or health problems, are also known causes of suicides.
Officials have also been puzzled by the rise in suicides after years of working to blunt the problem with new programs such as a regime of resilience training starting at boot camp and the hiring of more psychiatrists and other mental health workers.
Suicides among National Guard and Reserve soldiers who are not on active duty are also on pace to surpass last year’s numbers. According to the Army, there were 13 potential suicides – nine Army Guard and four Army Reserve – in October, bringing the year’s total to 114. The total for 2011 was 118. AP
FACTS & FIGURES
More members of the U.S. Armed Forces died by their own hand – usually with a gun – during the first nine months of 2012 than had their lives ended by the enemy in Afghanistan during the same period. Telegram.com
During the first nine months of 2012, there were 247 suspected suicides among Army active- and reserve-duty personnel, compared to 222 military deaths among active and reserve personnel from “hostile causes” as of Sept. 28. Telegram.com
Nationally, suicides among active and non-active military personnel are increasing. In July alone, a record 38 confirmed or suspected suicides were recorded, including 26 among active-duty soldiers and 12 among National Guard or reserve soldiers who were not on active duty. Telegram.com
Mental-health problems were the top reason troops were hospitalized in 2011, according to a May Pentagon report. Nearly 22,000 troops were hospitalized with mental disorders last year, 54% more than in 2007. Time
The Army has been struggling to deal with the suicide problem since numbers began rising in 2004. This year, the average is nearly one soldier suicide a day. NPR
In comments before Congress in July, Secretary of Defense Leon Panetta characterized the suicide rate as “an epidemic”. Gen. Loyd J. Austin III, the Army’s vice-chief of staff, commented, “Suicide is the toughest enemy I have faced in my 37 years in the Army”. wsws.org