Created on: January 16, 2013 Last Updated: January 17, 2013
War takes its toll, and not always on the battlefield. In 2012, in fact, suicide not combat was the leading cause of death for members of the US military. Figures for suicide are climbing at an alarming rate. The wire service UPI reported recently that there were a recorded 349 deaths by suicide among active duty military compared with 229 deaths in Afghanistan for 2012.
While the figures may yet be revised (pending investigation), officials noted that suicides climbed from 159 to 182 in the US Army from 2011 to 2012; the rate of increase in suicide saw a 50 percent rise for US Marines, 15 percent for the US Navy, and 16 percent for the US Air Force. Clearly, this is a disturbing trend.
Pentagon struggles to stem the epidemic
The disturbing increase in suicide by military personnel is one that Defense Secretary Leon Panetta has labeled “an epidemic.” However, the rate is growing even faster than the military itself had anticipated. According to CBS News, “The problem reflects severe strains on military personnel burdened with more than a decade of combat in Afghanistan and Iraq, complicated by anxiety over the prospect of being forced out of a shrinking force.”
Of course, suicide is not easily comprehended. Statistics indicate military suicides began increasing in 2006, then leveled off in 2009 for two years, and are now on the rise again. Many in the military and White House were surprised by the increase for 2012, given the phasing out of military activity in Iraq and the beginning of US withdrawal from Afghanistan.
Who is taking their life and why?
According to Dean David Rudd, a researcher of military suicide from the University of Utah, two main groups appear to be taking their own lives at an increasing pace. These include returning Iraq and Afghanistan veterans who are troubled by post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD), who frequently suffer from depression and/or have problems with substance abuse. The second group are non-combat personnel, who have marital, money, or legal troubles (perhaps a side-effect of the troubled economy).
Below the national average, but source of concern
While the Pentagon may be quick to point out that the suicide rate for military personnel is still below the national average (17.5 per 100,000 vs. 25 per 100,000 for the general population for males aged 17 to 60), that’s little consolation to military families or the public.
Retired Army Generals Peter Chiarelli and Dennis Reimer have recently
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