Army suicides hit high in July 2012

A total of 38 soldiers either committed suicide or are suspected of doing so in July, the highest one-month tally since the Army began tracking it closely.

The Army suicide pace this year is surpassing last year, particularly among active-duty soldiers, where there is a 22% increase — 116 deaths this year vs. 95 for the same seven months last year, according to Army data released Thursday.

Bruce Shahbaz, an Army analyst, says one theory for the higher rate of suicide is that after the drawdown of troops from combat, soldiers are spending more time at home, and the emotional adjustments have become a struggle.

In a recent interview with USA TODAY, Gen. Ray Odierno, Army chief of staff, said suicides are the most common form of death in the Army.

“We’re very focused on this,” Odierno said, citing a campaign begun this year aimed at improving emotional resiliency, closely monitoring soldier attitudes and regularly assessing support programs.

The Army suicide rate seven months into this year is 29 deaths per 100,000, far surpassing last year’s rate of about 23 deaths per 100,000, Shahbaz says. Those rates compare with a civilian rate of 18.5 for a demographically similar population in 2009, the latest available data.

A pattern has emerged this year showing more suicides among veteran enlisted soldiers than among younger GIs, Shahbaz says.

Within the active-duty Army in 2012, there were 54 suicides among enlisted soldiers ranked sergeant or higher (not including officers ranked lieutenant or higher), compared with 46 among junior enlisted, the first time this has happened, Shahbaz says. The Army has traditionally viewed younger soldiers as the most vulnerable suicide population, but that may be changing, he says.

The July record included 26 potential suicides among active-duty soldiers and 12 among National Guard or Reserve soldiers who were not on active-duty service. The 26 suicides are a monthly all-time record high for the active-duty Army. Fort Bragg in North Carolina reported the most suicides of any Army post this year: 13 deaths.

Suicides have increased across all branches of the military at a rate of about one per day, Defense Secretary Leon Panetta told Congress last month. “That is an epidemic,” he testified. “Something’s wrong.”

The problem is worse within the Army, which saw its suicide rate double from 2004 to 2009, before stabilizing for three years. Given the sharp increase this year, the Army is poised for its first significant jump in its suicide rate since 2009, Shahbaz says.

Odierno says a key factor in reducing suicides is other soldiers assisting a troubled friend. “If we can start getting peers coming forward and telling somebody, ‘Hey, we really might have a problem here,’ that’s when we’re having success,” he says.

Shahbaz urged people to use the military suicide hotline: 800-273-8255.