Army suicides on the rise

The Army confirmed in a Thursday report that 99 soldiers committed suicide last year, the highest number in a single year since 1991.

The figures also showed that of the 44 soldiers who have so far committed suicide in 2007, 17 were in Iraq or Afghanistan.

Although occupational issues may have contributed to some of the suicides, the report said soldiers also suffered from failed relationships and legal and financial trouble. The overall suicide rate for soldiers in 2006 was 17.3 per 100,000 soldiers, up from 12.8 per 100,000 in 2005 and 10.8 per 100,000 in 2004.

The military has stepped up mental health efforts in response to the suicide rate, which has risen steadily since shortly after the war in Iraq began. New initiatives include an increase in the number of caregivers assigned to units deployed for more than six months and commander training in suicide intervention.

Soldiers also will be encouraged to associate with battle buddies and attend relationship building seminars, as part of a movement to decrease the stigma of requesting mental health care.

Some veterans' advocates say the military's efforts still are inadequate.

"They're not educating people about suicide," said Susan Avila-Smith, director of Women Organizing Women, a group that counsels female military personnel who have been victims of sexual assault. Avila-Smith, who worked with the military as a Chinese linguist, said she was posted at a barracks with a high suicide rate, but didn't know it at the time.

"They brush the statistics under the rug," she said, "so I didn't realize [depression or post-traumatic stress] could happen to me, to the guy next to me." She also said post-traumatic stress disorder "isn't a mental illness," but rather "a normal response to the extreme pressures soldiers face."

Avila-Smith said numerous battlefield stresses, including disillusionment with the military's methods, might contribute to an active duty soldier's decision to commit suicide. "[Commanders] say 'Here's the rules,' but you turn around and they're not playing by the rules and that's scary because your reality is different and you don't know who to trust," she said.

It's difficult for soldiers to confide in chaplains, who are traditionally appointed as counselors to active personnel, if soldiers suspect the chaplains might report comments back to their superiors, Avila-Smith added.

She also noted that women soldiers, who are technically forbidden from serving on the front lines, have trouble securing treatment. "[Doctors] don't recognize that women have been in combat but they have, driving Humvees," she said.

Recruitment pressures have forced the Army to extend tours of duty or increase the number of tours so soldiers return to the field after brief stays at home, also contributing to stress.

Army Chief of Staff Gen. George Casey Jr. acknowledged in a Tuesday speech at the National Press Club that the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan have strained the Army's resources, including those for mental health.

"Soldiers, families, support systems and equipment are stretched and stressed by the demands of repeated deployments and insufficient recovery time," Casey said. "Army support systems -- for example, health care, education systems and family support systems -- were designed for the pre-9/11 peacetime Army, and we need to expand those and adapt them to sustain an Army at war."

Stay up-to-date with federal news alerts and analysis — Sign up for GovExec's email newsletters.
FROM OUR SPONSORS
JOIN THE DISCUSSION
Close [ x ] More from GovExec
 
 

Thank you for subscribing to newsletters from GovExec.com.
We think these reports might interest you:

  • Sponsored by Brocade

    Best of 2016 Federal Forum eBook

    Earlier this summer, Federal and tech industry leaders convened to talk security, machine learning, network modernization, DevOps, and much more at the 2016 Federal Forum. This eBook includes a useful summary highlighting the best content shared at the 2016 Federal Forum to help agencies modernize their network infrastructure.

    Download
  • Sponsored by CDW-G

    GBC Flash Poll Series: Merger & Acquisitions

    Download this GBC Flash Poll to learn more about federal perspectives on the impact of industry consolidation.

    Download
  • Sponsored by One Identity

    One Nation Under Guard: Securing User Identities Across State and Local Government

    In 2016, the government can expect even more sophisticated threats on the horizon, making it all the more imperative that agencies enforce proper identity and access management (IAM) practices. In order to better measure the current state of IAM at the state and local level, Government Business Council (GBC) conducted an in-depth research study of state and local employees.

    Download
  • Sponsored by Aquilent

    The Next Federal Evolution of Cloud

    This GBC report explains the evolution of cloud computing in federal government, and provides an outlook for the future of the cloud in government IT.

    Download
  • Sponsored by Aquilent

    A DevOps Roadmap for the Federal Government

    This GBC Report discusses how DevOps is steadily gaining traction among some of government's leading IT developers and agencies.

    Download
  • Sponsored by LTC Partners, administrators of the Federal Long Term Care Insurance Program

    Approaching the Brink of Federal Retirement

    Approximately 10,000 baby boomers are reaching retirement age per day, and a growing number of federal employees are preparing themselves for the next chapter of their lives. Learn how to tackle the challenges that today's workforce faces in laying the groundwork for a smooth and secure retirement.

    Download
  • Sponsored by Hewlett Packard Enterprise

    Cyber Defense 101: Arming the Next Generation of Government Employees

    Read this issue brief to learn about the sector's most potent challenges in the new cyber landscape and how government organizations are building a robust, threat-aware infrastructure

    Download
  • Sponsored by Aquilent

    GBC Issue Brief: Cultivating Digital Services in the Federal Landscape

    Read this GBC issue brief to learn more about the current state of digital services in the government, and how key players are pushing enhancements towards a user-centric approach.

    Download
  • Sponsored by CDW-G

    Joint Enterprise Licensing Agreements

    Read this eBook to learn how defense agencies can achieve savings and efficiencies with an Enterprise Software Agreement.

    Download
  • Sponsored by Cloudera

    Government Forum Content Library

    Get all the essential resources needed for effective technology strategies in the federal landscape.

    Download

When you download a report, your information may be shared with the underwriters of that document.