Lolita C. Baldor / Associated Press – 2006-05-25 07:51:20
WASHINGTON (May 22, 2006) — 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 problems 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. The totals include regular Army soldiers and National Guard and Reserve members who were deployed on active duty.
“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.”
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 war began in March 2003.
The Army recorded 90 suicides in 1993, with a suicide rate of 14.2 per 100,000.
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 to 34, which was 12.19 per 100,000 in 2003.
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.
“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 posttraumatic stress disorder or comparable mental health issues, or depression and severe anxiety.”
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 engaged in 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.”
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