Suicides Soaring Among US Troops, Spouses, and Children

September 28th, 2019 - by Haley Britzky / Task and Purpose & Patricia Kime /

The National Guard Had More Suicides in 2018 than Any Other Military Component

Haley Britzky / Task and Purpose

 (September 26, 2019) — The National Guard’s suicide rate has surpassed the entire active-duty force and the reserves, as well as the civilian population. 

30.6 people of every 100,000 in the National Guard died by suicide in 2018, the Pentagon’s first-ever Annual Suicide Report for 2018 said, compared to 24.8 active-duty service members, and 22.9 reservists. 

“I can’t express this rate without also expressing the fact that these are people, these are faces, these are members of our National Guard family that we’ve lost and there’s a profound impact upon us when we lose a member to suicide,” Maj. Gen. Dawne Deskins, the Director of Manpower and Personnel for the National Guard Bureau Joint Staff, told reporters on Thursday. 

The Guard has started a number of initiatives that it hopes will help provide resources and help to Guardsmen who need it — including partnering with the Department of Veterans Affairs to have Mobile Vet Centers available to soldiers and airmen at every drill weekend. They have also selected and funded 12 different state-level pilot programs around the country to help test what could be beneficial on a more individual level, instead of trickle-down policies from the national level. 

Those programs focus on a variety of things, such as alcohol and substance abuse, behavioral health access, and sexual assault prevention.

The Guard is, of course, not alone in fighting suicide within its ranks — 541 U.S. service members across the active-duty, reserve, and national guard components died by suicide in 2018. 

“While CY 2018 military suicide rates are statistically consistent with CY2016 and CY2017, rates have a statistically significant increase in the Active Component over current and past 5 years,” the Pentagon said in its report. 

Earlier this year, each active-duty service except the Air Force reported that suicides hit a record high in 2018 — 138 active-duty soldiers died by suicide in 2018, a five-year high for the active-duty Army; 57 active-duty Marines died by suicide, a nine-year high; and 68 active-duty sailors died by suicide, the highest on record

The Air Force was the only branch to see a decrease — 58 active-duty airmen died by suicide in 2018, compared to 63 in 2017. 

The last decade has also been devastating for veterans; at least 60,000 veterans died by suicide between 2008 and 2017, the VA reported last week— more than the number of service members that died in the Vietnam War. 

The Pentagon’s new report also mentioned that in CY 2017, 186 military family members died by suicide — which was comparable to or lower than the civilian population.

Dr. Elizabeth Van Winkle, the Director of the Office of Force Resiliency, told reporters on Thursday that Pentagon leaders are working to erase the “fear” of talking about suicide, and providing service members the tools to know how to discuss it if someone needs help, and what to do. 

“People have a fear about talking about this,” Van Winkle told reporters in a briefing on Thursday. “There is a fear that if they talk about it, they may give somebody the idea. There’s also the fear of if I talk about it, what happens if I say yes? What do I do? That’s on us to make sure that everyone on all levels, all the way down in the ranks, know what to do and know what to say. … The stigma is something that we absolutely struggle with.” 

Acting Army Secretary Ryan McCarthy and Chief of Staff Gen. James McConvile called the report “disheartening and disappointing. 

“Seeking help is not a sign of weakness,” the two leaders said in a joint statement. “It is a sign of strength.” 

If you’re thinking about suicide, are worried about a friend or loved one, or would like emotional support, the Lifeline network is available 24/7 across the United States. Call the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline at 800-273-TALK (800-273-8255) to reach a trained counselor. Use that same number and press “1” to reach the Veterans Crisis Line.

Posted in accordance with Title 17, Section 107, US Code, for noncommercial, educational purposes.

In a First, Pentagon Releases Data on Military Spouse and Child Suicides

Patricia Kime /

 (September 27, 2019) — In what was hailed as the Pentagon’s first-ever report on military family suicides, the Defense Department said Thursday that 123 spouses and 63 children took their own lives in 2017.

According to the inaugural Department of Defense 2018 Annual Suicide Report,the 186 deaths included 122 among of active-duty personnel families, 29 among Reserve families and 35 within National Guard families. Seventeen spouses were service members themselves

The report said the calculated suicide rate for family members, which allows for comparison with other populations, was significantly lower than the rate for the general U.S. population in 2017, 6.8 per 100,000 military family members, compared with 14.5 per 100,000 persons.

But the report also noted that the lower rate was not unexpected, given that military families trend younger than the general population.

The suicide rate for spouses was 11.5 deaths per 100,000, broken down into 9.1 per 100,000 for female spouses and 29.4 per 100,000 for males.

Pentagon analysts said those rates were comparable to age- and gender-adjusted rates of the U.S. population in 2017.

According to the report, the overall suicide rate for dependent children under age 23 was 3.8 per 100,000. Within that, the suicide rate for males was 5.2 per 100,000, lower than the rate for young men in the general population of 9.3 per 100,000.

The long-awaited report is the first to release data on military families, but without information from other years, “we do not have trends,” said Elizabeth Van Winkle, the executive director for Force Resiliency in the Under Secretary of Defense for Military Personnel and Readiness.

But, she added, “our military families are one of our greatest assets and our efforts need to consider the unique challenges of military life.”

The report is likely to disappoint those who have sought data on military family suicides for more than a decade. In 2010, Kristina Kaufmann, a former Armywife who now serves as CEO of the military and veterans advocacy group Code of Support Foundation, was among the first voices to call for the information, penning an editorial in The Washington Post expressing concern about military family suicides.

Kaufmann said at the time she had lost at least three friends to suicide and pushed Congress to ask the Pentagon for the data so programs could address the problem.

In 2014, Congress passed the fiscal 2015 National Defense Authorization Act, which required the Pentagon to standardize and collect data on suicides among military dependents. The policy and data collection was to be implemented in mid-2015, according to the law.

Last year, Democratic Sens. Tim Kaine of Virginia and Patty Murray of Washington sent a letter to the Defense Department last year asking for the data. They asked DoD to release any information it had on dependent suicide.

“We know these suicides occur, but there is presently a lack of information necessary to understand, prevent, and respond to these tragedies,” they wrote.

Pentagon officials said Thursday that the report contained data from 2017 because that is the most recent year data is available from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention on the general population.

“Our civilian data follows the CDC’s same time frame in terms of releasing data … the effort is to provide the most current data,” Van Winkle said.

Also according to the report, the means of suicide in more than half the deaths of both spouses and dependents was a firearm — 54% of spouse suicides and 51% of dependent suicides.

The use of a weapon by female military spouses in suicides is a departure from behavior in the general population, where the leading method of suicide in 2017 for women was poison or a drug overdose (31.4%), followed closely by firearm (31.2%), and then asphyxiation or hanging (27.9%).

Winkle said the Pentagon is working on initiatives to increase awareness among military personnel and family members of the risk factors for suicide so they can recognize when they, or others, need help.

“We’re also developing initiatives on safe storage of lethal means, that is, safely storing medications and firearms to ensure family safety and well as how to intervene in a crisis,” she said.

ACTION: The Military and Veterans Crisis Line is available 24 hours a day, seven days a week, for veterans, service members and their families who need help. Call 800-273-8255 and press 1, text 838255, or visit

Copyright 2019 All rights reserved. Posted in accordance with Title 17, Section 107, US Code, for noncommercial, educational purposes.

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