Soldier Suicide on the Rise Among Active Duty and Veterans

(Credit: Coalitionforveterans.org)[/caption]

Yesterday IVN reported that July was the deadliest month this year in Afghanistan. Last month also broke the record for the most active duty soldier suicides. 26 U.S. Army personnel ended their lives last month, more than double the number reported in June.

The number of active duty / reserve suicides for 2011 totaled 118. Half of 2012 has passed, and already the numbers are climbing: 54 confirmed suicides, with 17 cases still under investigation. 26 of those 71 deaths occurred in July, the deadliest month of the year according to Army reports.

The Marines also reported an increase in suicides in July– eight cases– up from six in June. In response, the Marines posted an article on Marines.mil, their DoD sponsored website, about the dangers of suicide and PTSD. The article called for soldiers to seek counseling from one of many programs offered to active, reserve, and veteran military personnel.

In a release from the Department of Defense, Gen. Lloyd J. Austin III, vice chief of staff of the Army, remains vigilant:

“Suicide is the toughest enemy I have faced in my 37 years in the Army.  And, it’s an enemy that’s killing not just soldiers, but tens of thousands of Americans every year.  That said, I do believe suicide is preventable.  To combat it effectively will require sophisticated solutions aimed at helping individuals to build resiliency and strengthen their life coping skills.  As we prepare for Suicide Prevention Month in September we also recognize that we must continue to address the stigma associated with behavioral health.  Ultimately, we want the mindset across our force and society at large to be that behavioral health is a routine part of what we do…”

All of the military branches, as well as the Veteran’s Association, have been on a crusade to erase the stigma surrounding mental health problems and encouraging soldiers to seek counseling for PTSD, depression, and anxiety. The problem, as the Marines.mil article states, is that the programs only help those who use them.

Combining the Army’s 26 suicides with the Marines’ eight, the recorded total suicides for July is 34. This number only reflects active duty personnel from two military branches. It is very likely that the number is much higher if other branches and veteran suicides were taken into consideration. Though the Army and the Marines are monitoring active duty troops, there are no monthly records keeping track of veteran suicides.

According to a Forbes article published earlier this year, every 80 minutes a veteran takes his or her own life– that’s 18 deaths per day. Using this formula, 558 veterans committed suicide in July. When combined with the Army and Marine totals for last month, the final tally is 592 soldiers and veterans lost to suicide in July alone. That is more than 14 times the number of casualties in Afghanistan last month.

Some believe that the spike in suicides is caused by the same issues which led to the increase in “green on blue” attacks last month in Afghanistan. PBS News interviewed Mark Thompson, TIME magazine’s Pentagon reporter, about the possible link between the two deadly records:

“We were just talking about these green-on-blue attacks. Suicides are the same way, in the sense that both are unexpected killings in a war zone. But the war has been going on for a decade, and that weighs heavily both on the guys fighting it on the American side, which can lead to suicide among really depressed soldiers, as well as these sort of green-on-blue attacks, as the enemy figures out the best way to — where we may be the most vulnerable.”

While DoD programs to prevent suicide and aid soldiers suffering from PTSD are helpful, some suggest that the real problem is that our soldiers are deployed at all. The U.S. has stationed troops in Afghanistan for 11 years, and it appears that the stress of a decade of war is taking its toll on U.S. troops.