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Army's January Suicide Rate Could Be Highest Monthly Total Ever

September 28, 2017

Seven soldiers committed suicide last month and 17 more suspicious deaths could be confirmed as suicides, which could bring the monthly total number of suicides to its highest level since the military began tracking such statistics in 1980, according to an Army report released on Thursday, the New York Times reports. According to the Times, while the suspicious deaths still are being investigated, the Army has said the "vast majority" of such deaths eventually are found to be suicide (Alvarez, New York Times, 2/6). The other military branches did not provide suicide rates for January, but the Army in the past few years consistently has had the highest rate (Jelinek, AP/Houston Chronicle, 2/5).

The Army last month announced that the suicide rate among U.S. soldiers in 2008 rose to its highest level since 1980. At least 128 soldiers in the Army, Army Reserve and National Guard committed suicide in 2008. That figure could increase, pending the outcome of investigations into 15 more deaths (Kaiser Daily Health Policy Report, 1/30). The annual rate rose for the fourth year in a row, according to the Times (New York Times, 2/6). Although specific reasons for the rate increase were not given, officials said longer deployments were a contributing factor, with other factors including job-related difficulties and financial, personal and legal problems (Kaiser Daily Health Policy Report, 1/30).

Gen. Peter Chiarelli, vice chief of staff of the Army, said, "The trend and trajectory ... heightens the seriousness and urgency that all of us must have in preventing suicides" (New York Times, 2/6). The Army last week said it would hold special training from Feb. 15 to Mar. 15 to help troops identify suicidal behavior in fellow soldiers. The Army later plans to establish a suicide prevention program for personnel at every level. In October 2008, the Army and the National Institute of Mental Health reached an agreement to conduct a five-year study to assess the mental and behavioral health of soldiers and develop periodic intervention strategies (AP/Houston Chronicle, 2/5).

The January suicide figures raised concerns among veterans' advocates, who say the military for years has been unsuccessful in meeting the mental health needs of soldiers returning from war, the Times reports. Paul Rieckhoff, executive director for Iraq and Afghanistan Veterans of America, said the Department of Defense and the Department of Veterans Affairs "must take bold and immediate action." He said, "In January, we lost more soldiers to suicide than to Al Qaeda," adding, "If we lost this many soldiers to an enemy weapon, the entire country would know about it and we would demand defensive measures" (New York Times, 2/6).

Reprinted with kind permission from kaisernetwork. You can view the entire Kaiser Daily Health Policy Report, search the archives, or sign up for email delivery at kaisernetwork/dailyreports/healthpolicy. The Kaiser Daily Health Policy Report is published for kaisernetwork, a free service of The Henry J. Kaiser Family Foundation.

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