Soldier Suicides: The Toll Just Keeps Growing

August 18th, 2007 - by admin

Pauline Jelinek / AP & Reuters & Matt Kelly / AP & Gregg Zoroya, USA TODAY & BBC – 2007-08-18 22:38:20,0,682798.story

Army Suicides Highest in 26 Years
Pauline Jelinek / The Associated Press

WASHINGTON (August 15, 2007) — Army soldiers committed suicide last year at the highest rate in 26 years, and more than a quarter did so while serving in Iraq and Afghanistan, according to a new military report.

The report, obtained by the Associated Press ahead of its scheduled release Thursday, found there were 99 confirmed suicides among active duty soldiers during 2006, up from 88 the previous year and the highest since the 102 suicides in 1991 at the time of the Persian Gulf War.

The suicide rate for the Army has fluctuated over the past 26 years, from last year’s high of 17.3 per 100,000 to a low of 9.1 per 100,000 in 2001.

Last year, “Iraq was the most common deployment location for both (suicides) and attempts,” the report said.

The 99 suicides included 28 soldiers deployed to the two wars and 71 who weren’t. About twice as many women serving in Iraq and Afghanistan committed suicide as did women not sent to war, the report said.

Preliminary numbers for the first half of this year indicate the number of suicides could decline across the service in 2007 but increase among troops serving in the wars, officials said.

The increases for 2006 came as Army officials worked to set up a number of new and stronger programs for providing mental health care to a force strained by the longer-than-expected war in Iraq and the global counterterrorism war entering its sixth year.

Failed personal relationships, legal and financial problems and the stress of their jobs were factors motivating the soldiers to commit suicide, according to the report.

“In addition, there was a significant relationship between suicide attempts and number of days deployed” in Iraq, Afghanistan or nearby countries where troops are participating in the war effort, it said. The same pattern seemed to hold true for those who not only attempted, but succeeded in killing themselves.

There also “was limited evidence to support the view that multiple … deployments are a risk factor for suicide behaviors,” it said.

About a quarter of those who killed themselves had a history of at least one psychiatric disorder. Of those, about 20 percent had been diagnosed with a mood disorder such as bipolar disorder and/or depression; and 8 percent had been diagnosed with an anxiety disorder, including post traumatic stress disorder — one of the signature injuries of the conflict in Iraq.

Firearms were the most common method of suicide. Those who attempted suicide but didn’t succeed tended more often to take overdoses and cut themselves.

In a service of more than a half million troop, the 99 suicides amounted to a rate of 17.3 per 100,000 — the highest in the past 26 years, the report said. The average rate over those years has been 12.3 per 100,000.

The rate for those serving in the wars stayed about the same, 19.4 per 100,000 in 2006, compared with 19.9 in 2005.

The Army said the information was compiled from reports collected as part of its suicide prevention program — reports required for all “suicide-related behaviors that result in death, hospitalization or evacuation” of the soldier. It can take considerable time to investigate a suicide and, in fact, the Army said that in addition to the 99 confirmed suicides last year, there are two other deaths suspected as suicides in which investigations were pending.

Associated Press reporter Lolita C. Baldor contributed to this report from Washington.

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2005 — US Soldiers’ Suicide Rate in Iraq Doubles

WASHINGTON (December 19, 2006) ‘ Suicides among U.S. soldiers in Iraq doubled last year over the previous year to return to a level seen in 2003, U.S. Army medical experts said on Tuesday.

Twenty-two U.S. soldiers in Iraq took their own lives in 2005, a rate of 19.9 per 100,000 soldiers. In 2004, the rate was 10.5 per 100,000 and in 2003, the year of the U.S.-led invasion of Iraq, the figure was 18.8 per 100,000.

The figures cover U.S. Army soldiers only. They do not include members of other U.S. military services in Iraq such as the Marine Corps.

Lt. Gen. Kevin Kiley, the Army’s surgeon general, cautioned against overinterpreting the figures, saying suicide rates tended to fluctuate from year to year.

“We think that the numbers are so rare to begin with that it’s very hard to make any kind of interpretation,” he said at a news conference to present a study on the mental health of U.S. soldiers in Iraq.

“We have not made a connection between the stress on the force and some massive or even significant increase in suicides,” he said.

While every suicide was one too many, Kiley said, the suicide rate among soldiers was lower than the average among civilians of the same age and gender.

The survey, a snapshot of the morale and mental health of U.S. soldiers in Iraq in late 2005, found 13.6 percent of the soldiers reported symptoms of acute stress and 16.5 percent reported a combination of depression, anxiety and acute stress.

Those rates were lower than in 2003 but higher than in 2004, the experts said.

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2004 — US Soldiers’ Suicide Rate up in Iraq
Matt Kelley / Associated Press

(January 14, 2004) — U.S. soldiers in Iraq are killing themselves at an unusually high rate, despite the work of special teams sent to help troops deal with combat stress, the Pentagon’s top doctor said Wednesday.

Meanwhile, about 2,500 soldiers who have returned from the war on terrorism are having to wait for medical care at bases in the United States, said Dr. William Winkenwerder, assistant secretary of defense for health affairs. The problem of troops on “medical extension” is likely to get worse as the Pentagon rotates hundreds of thousands of troops into and out of Iraq this spring, he said.

Both situations illustrate the stresses placed on the troops and the military’s health system by the war in Iraq.

Suicide has become such a pressing issue that the Army sent an assessment team to Iraq late last year to see if anything more could be done to prevent troops from killing themselves. The Army also began offering more counseling to returning troops after several soldiers at Fort Bragg, N.C., killed their wives and themselves after returning home from the war.

Winkenwerder said the military has documented 21 suicides during 2003 among troops involved in the Iraq war. Eighteen of those were Army soldiers, he said.

That’s a suicide rate for soldiers in Iraq of about 13.5 per 100,000, Winkenwerder said. In 2002, the Army reported an overall suicide rate of 11.1 per 100,000.

The overall suicide rate nationwide during 2001 was 10.7 per 100,000, according to the federal Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

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2003 — Army Probes Soldier Suicides
Gregg Zoroya, USA TODAY

(October13, 2003) — Alarmed by the number of suicides among soldiers in Iraq, the Army has asked a team of doctors to determine whether the stress of combat and long deployments is contributing to the deaths.

“The number of suicides has caused the Army to be concerned,” said Lt. Col. Elspeth Cameron Ritchie, a psychiatrist at the Army’s Uniformed Services University of the Health Sciences in Bethesda, Md. Ritchie is helping to investigate the suicides in Iraq. “Is there something different going on in Iraq that we really need to pay attention to?” (Related story: Soldier’s suicide shocks Pa. town)

In the past seven months, at least 11 soldiers and three Marines have committed suicide in Iraq, military officials say. That is an annual rate of 17 per 100,000. The Navy also is investigating one possible suicide. And about a dozen other Army deaths are under investigation and could include suicides.

The numbers suggest the rate in Iraq is above normal. Last year, the military services reported 8 to 9 suicides per 100,000 people. The Army rate is usually higher, 10 to 13 per 100,000. That mirrors the rate for the same age group in the general population.

Army officials caution against drawing general conclusions based on small changes. But they sent a mental-health team to Iraq last month to study various issues, including suicides and treatment available for soldiers suffering from depression. Dispatched by the Army surgeon general’s office, the team consists of psychologists, psychiatrists, social workers and the manager of the Army’s suicide-prevention program. The team has surveyed 700 soldiers and held discussions in which GIs were encouraged to talk freely.

“They are … looking at the stresses on the troops, how well the troops are coping and how well the basic principles of battlefield psychiatry are working,” Ritchie said.

Most of the suicides have occurred since May 1, after major combat operations were declared ended. Experts say harsh and dangerous living conditions combined with a long deployment can worsen existing depression. And the accessibility of weapons in a war zone can quickly turn a passing thought into action. “It just takes a second to pull it out and put it to your head and pull the trigger,” Ritchie said.

The Army has sent 478 soldiers home from Iraq for mental-health issues. Officials say that in previous wars, many of those cases would have been treated in the war zone. The Army doesn’t have enough mental-health resources in Iraq to treat many of the cases.

The Army responded to a 26% increase in active-duty suicides from 1997 to 1999 by implementing the suicide-prevention program in 2001.

By contrast, only two U.S. military personnel killed themselves during the 1991 Persian Gulf War, although that conflict only lasted about a month. The Army recorded 102 suicides during 1991 for a rate of about 13.5 per 100,000.

The military investigates every death and some of those probes may be incomplete, meaning the actual suicide rate could be even higher, Winkenwerder said. He said health officials haven’t identified any common threads among the confirmed suicides.

“We don’t see any trend there that tells us that there’s more we might be doing,” Winkenwerder told a breakfast meeting of Pentagon reporters.

The military has nine combat stress teams in Iraq to help treat troops’ mental health problems, and each division has a psychiatrist, psychologist and social worker, Winkenwerder said. Of more than 10,000 troops medically evacuated from Iraq, between 300 and 400 were sent outside the country for treatment of mental health problems, he said.

The military prefers to treat mental health problems such as depression by keeping troops in their regular duties while they get counseling and possibly medication, Winkenwerder said. Less than one percent of the troops in Iraq are treated for mental issues during an average week, he said.

Winkenwerder said he had no specifics on the number of soldiers being treated for battlefield stress, although the military is focused on treating that problem.

“We believe they are being identified, they are being supported,” Winkenwerder said.

The military also is working to solve the issue of soldiers awaiting non-emergency medical care. Since November, about 1,900 of 4,400 waiting for medical care have been treated, Winkenwerder said.

But the military expects more problems when tens of thousands of troops are rotated in and out of Iraq this spring, Winkenwerder said. Many of those troops leaving Iraq may have to wait at various bases in the United States for medical treatment such as physical therapy for injuries, he said.

The Army is working to sign contracts with civilian medical providers and bringing in more staff from the Navy, Air Force and Department of Veterans Affairs to help, Winkenwerder said.

Another source of the problem has been a large number of National Guard and reserve troops activated for duty in Iraq who have to be treated for underlying health problems, Winkenwerder said. The Army is working to solve that problem by screening those reservists at their home bases, rather than later.

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US Army Suicides Hit 26-year High
BBC World News

LONDON (August 16, 2007) — At least 99 American soldiers killed themselves last year, the US army’s highest suicide rate in 26 years, according to a new report.

The rate of 17.3 suicides per 100,000 soldiers compares with 12.8 in 2005, officials said.

Twenty-eight of the soldiers who took their own life last year did so while serving in Iraq or Afghanistan.

The army listed failed relationships, legal and financial issues and work stress as factors behind the suicides.

Two soldiers’ deaths from last year are still being investigated. If confirmed as suicide, the figure for 2006 will climb to 101.

The highest number recorded was 102 in 1991, the year of the Gulf War – but more soldiers were on active duty then, meaning the rate per 100,000 soldiers was lower than in 2006.

So far this year, 44 soldiers have taken their own lives, 17 of them while deployed to Iraq or Afghanistan.

Mental health care
The report said there was “limited evidence” to support the suspicion that repeated deployments to Iraq and Afghanistan were putting more servicemen and women at risk of suicide.

Its authors found a significant relationship between suicide attempts and the length of time soldiers spent in Iraq, Afghanistan or in nearby countries in operations supporting those wars.

A study published in March this year found a quarter of US veterans treated at veterans’ health centres after returning from Iraq and Afghanistan suffered mental health problems.

The most frequent diagnosis was post-traumatic stress disorder, but anxiety, depression and substance-use also counted as mental health problems.

Other studies have found that the US military’s mental health care resources have not been adequate for the large numbers of servicemen and women needing help as the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan continue.

The US army has revised training programmes and is doing more to prevent suicides, the Associated Press news agency says.

It has also recruited more psychiatrists and other mental health professionals and is encouraging soldiers to recognise their own problems and seek help without fear of stigma.

Originally published on BBC.

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