Struggling With the Army's Record Suicide Rate

The Army reports 147 deaths so far this year--nearly as many all Americans killed in Iraq this year

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The rising suicide rate in the U.S. armed forces is a harrowing problem all-too-familiar to those close to the military. This year has been the worst for suicides since the Army began recording data in 1980, with 147 suspected cases--up from 140 last year. Why are these deaths spiking, and what can be done?

  • Too Many Deployments Time's Daniel Mihailescu reports, "Although Army officials don't blame the spike on repeated deployments to war zones, evidence is mounting to the contrary. Only about a third of Army suicides happen in war zones, officials note, and another third are among personnel who had never deployed. But that means two-thirds of Army suicides have deployed, many returning home with mental scars that make them prone to take their own lives, the Army's No. 2 officer said last week." He also explores the use of prescription drugs. "A recent Army study shows that the percentage of soldiers in Afghanistan taking antidepressants and other mental-health drugs nearly tripled -- from 3.5% to 9.8% -- between their first and third deployments."
  • Increase Dwell Time! Veteran Voice's Jon Soltz writes in the Huffington Post that the "dwell time" -- the time troops get home between deployments, which has been reduced -- must be restored. This is "not what our soldiers deserve as their suicide rate increases to record levels for the fourth year in a row. Not when the Army itself says there's a "significant link" between length of deployments and suicides. Even if the Obama administration doesn't use Stop Loss or increase deployments lengths to make their Afghanistan deployment schedule work, it's clear our soldiers need more of a break between time away."
  • Complex With Many Causes U.S. Army Vice Chief of Staff, Gen. Peter Chiarelli explains the challenges to CNN. "We still haven't found any statistically significant causal linkage that would allow us to effectively predict human behavior. The reality is there is no simple answer, each suicide case is as unique as the individuals themselves," he said. "Everywhere I try to cut this and look at it to try to find out what the causal effect is, I get thwarted. And that's why we think that we've got to look in its totality at a whole bunch of different issues, and it's going to take time."
  • 'Our Deadliest Enemy' Official blogger Jamie McIntyre worries. "From my years of cov­er­ing mil­i­tary sui­cide rates, I know that tra­di­tion­ally the mil­i­tary rate is lower than for civil­ians, once you adjust for age, gen­der, etc. But because civil­ian sta­tis­tics are not as cur­rent, we can't tell how much worse the sit­u­a­tion may be in the military. Still we know something's wrong when more of our fight­ing men and women are dying by their own hand than from the Taliban or al Qaeda."
  • As Dangerous As Iraq Talking Points Memo's David Kurtz does the math. "The 140 Army suicides so far this year equal the total from all of 2008 -- and almost equal the 142 U.S. troops from all the services killed in Iraq so far this year." That was in November. As of today, the number of Americans killed in Iraq in 2009 is 151.
  • Suicide Among Inactive Army High NBC News's Jim Miklaszewski and Courtney Kube note "another 71 Army National Guard and Army Reserve soldiers who were NOT deployed at the time of death are also possible or confirmed suicide victims." They write, "Of course, with so many Guard and Reserve soldiers serving in Iraq and Afghanistan, a soldier could be back from the war zone for only a matter of weeks before being inactivated."
This article is from the archive of our partner The Wire.