Army soldiers committed suicide in 2007 at the highest rate on record, and the toll is climbing ever higher this year as long war deployments stretch on.
Army soldiers committed suicide in 2007 at the highest rate on record, and the toll is climbing ever higher this year as long war deployments stretch on.At least 115 soldiers killed themselves last year, up from 102 the previous year, the Army said Thursday. Nearly a third of them died at the battlefront — 32 in Iraq and four in Afghanistan. But 26 percent had never deployed to either conflict. “We see a lot of things that are going on in the war which do contribute — mainly the longtime and multiple deployments away from home, exposure to really terrifying and horrifying things, the easy availability of loaded weapons and a force that’s very, very busy right now,” said Col. Elspeth Ritchie psychiatric consultant to the Army surgeon general. Some common factors among those who took their own lives were trouble with relationships, work problems and legal and financial difficulties, officials said. Increasing the strain on the force last year was the extension of deployments to 15 months from 12 months, a practice ending this year. The 115 confirmed suicides among active-duty soldiers and National Guard and Reserve troops who had been activated amounted to a rate of 18.8 per 100,000 troops — the highest since the Army began keeping records in 1980. Two other deaths are suspected suicides but are still under investigation. So far this year, the trend is comparable to last year, said Lt. Col. Thomas E. Languirand, head of command policies and programs. As of Monday, there had been 38 confirmed suicides in 2008, and 12 more death are suspected suicides but still under investigation, he said. The rate of suicide continues to rise despite a host of efforts the Army has made to improve the mental health of a force under unprecedented stress from the longer-than-expected war in Iraq and the long and repeated tours of duty it has prompted. Officials have hired more mental health workers, increased screening to measure the psychological health of soldiers and worked to reduce any stigma that keeps them from going for treatment when they have symptoms of depression, anxiety, post-traumatic stress and other emotional problems. Suicides have been rising nearly each year of the five-year-old war in Iraq and the nearly seven years of war in Afghanistan. The 115 deaths last year and 102 in 2006 followed 85 in 2005 and 67 in 2004. The rate of 18.8 per 100,000 last year compared to a rate of 17.5 in 2006 and 9.8 in 2002 — the first full year after the start of the war in Afghanistan. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention said the suicide rate for U.S. society overall was about 11 per 100,000 in 2004, the latest year for which the agency has figures. The Army said when civilian rates are adjusted to cover the same age and gender mix that exists in the Army, the civilian rate is more like 19.5 per 100,000.