Soldiers killed themselves at a rate faster than one per day in July, the Army announced Thursday. There were 38 deaths either confirmed or suspected as suicides, the highest one-month tally in recent Army history, the service said.
The Army suicide pace this year is surpassing last year, particularly among active-duty soldiers where there is a 22% increase — 116 deaths so far this year vs. 95 during the same seven months last year, according to Army data.
The current 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, says Bruce Shahbaz, an Army analyst. Those rates compare with a 2009 civilian rate — the latest available data — of 18.5 for a demographically similar population.
A new pattern has emerged this year with more suicides among veteran 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.
Shahbaz says one theory for the higher rate of suicide is that with the draw-down of troops from combat, soldiers are spending more time at home and the emotional adjustments have become a struggle.
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 also a monthly all-time record high for the active-duty Army.
Fort Bragg, N.C., reported the most suicides of any Army installation so far this year with 13 deaths.
In a recent interview with USA TODAY, Gen. Ray Odierno, Army chief of staff, said suicides are now the most common form of death in the Army, claiming more lives that combat or motor vehicle accidents.
“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.
Suicides have increased across the military, Defense Secretary Leon Panetta told Congress last month. He said servicemembers of all branches are killing themselves at the rate of about one per day. “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 in suicides so far 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.