Suicides in the U.S. military hit a record high of 349 in 2012, and some experts are afraid that number will go up.
In fact, self-inflicted injury was more deadly to our military personnel than war itself last year, when 295 U.S. troops died in Afghanistan.
While the numbers are preliminary and could change somewhat, they are cause for concern, particularly after two years in which military suicides had leveled off after reaching the previous record of 310 in 2009.
Broken down by military branch, the Army, which is the largest branch, had the most incidents with 182 active-duty troops, followed by the Navy with 60, an increase of 15 percent; the Air Force with 59, up 16 percent, and the Marines with 48, up 50 percent from the previous year. The Pentagon began keeping close tabs on suicides among active-duty personnel in 2001.
David Rudd, a military suicide researcher and dean of the College of Social and Behavioral Sciences at the University of Utah, told The Associated Press that he had found two categories of troops who are committing suicides at higher rates. Group one, he said, are Iraq and Afghanistan war veterans who are suffering from depression, substance abuse or post-traumatic stress. The second group, he said, are military personnel who haven’t gone to battle but who have troubled personal relationships, money issues or legal problems. He also said he believes the numbers may continue to increase.
After a decade of war in Iraq and Afghanistan, it’s understandable that members of the military, many who have served multiple tours in the war zones, would have trouble adjusting to home bases, which are less intense. Also, as the military pares down its numbers with the war in Afghanistan winding down, these warriors are faced with the prospect of being forced to leave military forces that will be smaller.
The Pentagon has been working on this situation. In looking at 2011, military officials found that white men under the age of 25 in the junior enlisted ranks who had less than a college education tended to be the ones who took their own lives. The numbers also have shown that the incidents of suicide are more prevalent in divorced military personnel.
While the instances of suicide are still less in the military than the average for the U.S. — 17.5 out of every 100,000, as opposed to the U.S. rate for men ages 17-60 of 25 out of 100,000 — the federal government can’t lose sight of the need to help our military personnel successfully transition to their next phases in life. Ways have to be found to get to those who are at-risk for suicide so that they can be shown there are alternatives.
These are Americans who have gone to war to defend our nation. We should be there for them when they need us.