Army Suicides Hit Highest Level Since ’93


Richard Moore

Original source URL:

    Army Suicides Hit Highest Level Since '93
    By Lolita C. Baldor
    The Associated Press
    Saturday 22 April 2006

    Washington - The number of US Army soldiers who took their own lives 
increased last year to the highest total since 1993, despite a growing effort by
the Army to detect and prevent suicides.

    In 2005, a total of 83 soldiers committed suicide, compared with 67 in 2004,
and 60 in 2003 - the year US-led forces invaded Iraq. Four other deaths in 2005 
are being investigated as possible suicides but have not yet been confirmed. The
totals include active duty Army soldiers and deployed National Guard and Reserve

    "Although we are not alarmed by the slight increase, we do take suicide 
prevention very seriously," said Army spokesman Col. Joseph Curtin.

    "We have increased the number of combat stress teams, increased suicide 
prevention and training, and we are working very aggressively to change the 
culture so that soldiers feel comfortable coming forward with their personal 
problems in a culture where historically admitting mental health issues was 
frowned upon," Curtin said.

    Of the confirmed suicides last year, 25 were soldiers deployed to the Iraq 
and Afghanistan wars - which amounts to 40 percent of the 64 suicides by Army 
soldiers in Iraq since the conflict began in March 2003.

    The suicide rate for the Army has fluctuated over the past 25 years, from a 
high of 15.8 per 100,000 in 1985 to a low of 9.1 per 100,000 in 2001. Last year 
it was nearly 13 per 100,000.

    The Army recorded 90 suicides in 1993, with a suicide rate of 14.2 per 

    The Army rate is higher than the civilian suicide rate for 2003, which was 
10.8 per 100,000, according to the National Centers for Disease Control and 
Prevention. But the Army number tracked closely with the rate for civilians aged
18-34, which was 12.19 per 100,000 in 2003.

    When suicides among soldiers in Iraq spiked in the summer of 2003, the Army 
put together a mental health assessment team that met with troops. Investigators
found common threads in the circumstances of the soldiers who committed suicide 
- including personal financial problems, failed personal relationships and legal

    Since then, the Army has increased the number of mental health professionals
and placed combat stress teams with units. According to the Army, there are more
than 230 mental health practitioners working in Iraq and Afghanistan, compared 
with "about a handful" when the war began, Curtin said.

    Soldiers also get cards and booklets that outline suicide warning signs and 
how to get help.

    But at least one veterans group says it's not enough.

    "These numbers should be a wake-up call on the mental health impact of this 
war," said Paul Rieckhoff, executive director of the Iraq and Afghanistan 
Veterans of America. "One in three soldiers will come back with post traumatic 
stress disorder or comparable mental health issues, or depression and severe 

    Rieckhoff, who was a platoon leader in Iraq, said solders there face 
increased stress because they are often deployed to the warfront several times, 
they are fighting urban combat and their enemy blends in with the population, 
making it more difficult to tell friend from foe.

    "You don't get much time to rest and with the increased insurgency, your 
chances of getting killed or wounded are growing," he said. "The Army is trying 
harder, but they've got an incredibly long way to go."

    He added that while there are more psychiatrists, the soldiers are still in 
a war zone, "so you're just putting your finger in the dam."


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