Archive for January 16th, 2010

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Military suicides outnumber war casualties

January 16, 2010

Through November 2009, more U.S. military personnel had taken their own lives than had been killed in either the Afghanistan or Iraq wars this year, according to a Congressional Quarterly compilation of the latest statistics from the armed services.

At least 334 members of the military services committed suicide in 2009, compared with 297 killed in Afghanistan and 144 who died in Iraq.

“These numbers are just staggering and, tragically, are an indication that we are simply not doing the job of providing adequate mental health care for both our active-duty service people and our veterans, said Bob Filner, D-Calif., chairman of the House Veterans Affairs Committee.

Armed forces personnel traditionally have had a much lower suicide rate than the population at large. Because the most recently available national suicide statistics from the Centers for Disease Control are from 2006, it is impossible to know whether the current military rate is higher than the current civilian rate. However, the civilian suicide rate for males ages 20-29 hovered around 20 per 100,000 during the first half of this decade. The Army said its suicide rate is now a bit higher than that for the first time.

Moreover, the total number who have killed themselves in 2009 is probably higher than 334, because the figure does not include unavailable suicide statistics for 2009 for Marine Corps reservists or veterans of Iraq and Afghanistan who have left the service.

The veterans’ numbers, in particular, could yet swell the totals considerably. The Department of Veterans Affairs said an average of 53 Iraq and Afghanistan veterans committed suicide each year between 2002 and 2006. And that number only includes suicides among the quarter of all veterans who use the VA’s health system.

The rising number of suicides has coincided with U.S. military forces redeploying frequently to Iraq and Afghanistan.  Army leaders say they are unable to conclude that the deployments are the main cause of the suicide increase — one-third of the active-duty soldiers who killed themselves in 2009 have no deployment history, according to Army Vice Chief of Staff Gen. Peter Chiarelli.

The suicide problem is expected to become more prominent as the debate continues over deployments in Afghanistan. As the public grows more restive about continued warfare on two fronts, lawmakers will be under pressure to address those concerns, and the political pressure will grow as next year’s midterm elections get closer.

The deployments to Afghanistan will probably only grow in the months ahead. President Obama is expected to announce next week that the U.S. force of about 68,000 in Afghanistan will swell next year, perhaps by 50 percent. Meanwhile, the approximately 115,000 U.S. forces in Iraq will go down to 50,000, but not until August 2010.

Posted by Graychin

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