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Army faces highest monthly total of suicides

Aug. 16, 2012 - 01:20PM   |   Last Updated: Aug. 16, 2012 - 01:20PM  |  
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The Army experienced a record 38 suicides in July, the highest monthly total since the service began releasing monthly figures in 2009.

According to an Army report, 26 active-duty soldiers and 12 Army National Guard or Army Reserve members were suspected of or confirmed to have died by suicide.

The soldiers included a 21-year-old air traffic controller who shot himself in his Fort Wainright, Alaska, barracks; a 26-year-old second lieutenant who died at an indoor firing range in Virginia, and a 29-year-old sergeant who had deployed four times to Iraq and Afghanistan.

Three soldiers died at their own hands on deployment, and 13 had deployed at least once. But nine had never seen combat, according to the Army.

All were men, and three-fourths were in paygrades E-3 through E-5.

The deaths bring the total number of suspected suicides by soldiers to 187 for the year: 116 on active duty and 71 nonmobilized Guard or Reserve members. The previous record for a single month was 33 in July 2011.

An Army spokeswoman cautioned that the July 2012 figures have not been confirmed and could drop as death investigations conclude. The service doesn't rule a death a suicide until it is confirmed by the Armed Forces Medical Examiner.

The pace of one suicide every 27 hours this year frustrates Army leadership, which has vested heavily in prevention programs and mental health treatment.

"The indicators of high-risk behaviors such as drug use, suicide attempts and accidental overdoses continue to be a challenge. … We definitely still have a lot of work to do," said Sgt. Maj. Donna Brock with the Army's Medical Command at a joint Defense Department-Veterans Affairs conference on suicide prevention.

Since 2008, the Defense Department has invested $110 million into its Military Suicide Prevention Program, including $50 million from the Army for a large-scale study of mental health, resilience and suicide risk.

The Army also has launched numerous initiatives to prevent suicide, including force-wide resilience training to help soldiers handle stress and mandatory mental health screenings.

The Army statistics for 2012 exceed those for the first seven months of 2009 through 2011, when the service suffered an average 160 suicides per year during the same time period.

The Army's suicide rate has risen from 19.1 per 100,000 in 2008 to roughly 24 per 100,000 in 2011.

The other services also are struggling with an increased pace of suicides this year. Air Force incidents, including both active duty and the Air National Guard and Air Force Reserve, are set to exceed the service's 2011 numbers. This year, 55 airmen have committed suicide, 36 while on active duty — six more than the number of active duty personnel who completed suicide during the same time frame last year.

In the first seven months of 2012, the Marine Corps had 32 suicides, the same total that the Corps had for all of 2011.

The Navy has had 39 suicides; in 2011, it experienced its worst year, with 52 deaths.

The Coast Guard, the smallest service with roughly 42,000 members, has had five suicides in 2012; last year, it experienced six.

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