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Still struggling with suicide, Army sees uptick in sex crimes, domestic violence

WASHINGTON — Soldiers are increasingly struggling with the fallout of a decade at war, a new Army report released Thursday showed.

Suicides among active-duty troops ticked up slightly to a new high in 2011, while multi-year trends showed major increases in domestic violence, child abuse and sex crimes, according to the study, a follow-up to a 2010 study on health and suicide risks.

“After 10 years of war with an all-volunteer force, you’re going to have problems that no one could have forecasted before this began,” said Army Vice Chief of Staff Gen. Peter Chiarelli, who presented the results Thursday at the Pentagon.

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Two of the signature afflictions of the recent wars, traumatic brain injury and post-traumatic stress disorder, have continued trending upward, with 126,000 cases of TBI since the beginning of the wars in Afghanistan and Iraq, along with 70,000 diagnosed cases of PTSD since 2003.

The majority of soldiers disqualified from service with serious injury, he said, are suffering from either TBI or PTSD, he said.

Suicide overall has leveled off, Chiarelli said. Among active-duty troops, Army statistics show an in increase to 164 in 2011 from 159 in 2010, while suicide numbers for Reserve and National Guard troops fell in 2011.

“The key here is trying to find those 164 in that [total Army] population of 700,000,” Chiarelli said.

Overall, including Army civilians and military families, the suicide total fell to 315 in 2011 from 350 the previous year.

Given the severity of the psychological problems that can arise from war, the numbers could have been worse if the Army hadn’t tackled the issue seriously several years ago, Chiarelli said.

“What would it have been if we had not focused the efforts we have focused on it,” Chiarelli said. “How much more would it have continued to climb?”

According to the report, hospitalizations with a diagnosis of “suicidal ideation” rose to more than 3,500 in 2010 from nearly zero in 2005.

More troops are getting treatment — a positive sign that the stigma of seeing help is disappearing, Chiarelli argued. Overall, about 280,000 troops sought behavioral treatment in 2011.

Other measures show an Army population that is struggling.

  • Violent sex crime was up 64 percent from 2006 to 2011
  • Domestic violence rose 33 percent from 2006 to 2011.
  • Child abuse rose 43 percent in the same time period.

Though troops have left Iraq and an Afghanistan withdrawal is planned, the health and psychological problems will continue, and in some cases could even increase as veterans enter the civilian world, Chiarelli said. The Army will stay on top of them, he promised.

“We can see ourselves like we’ve never been able to see ourselves before,” he said in reference to Thursday’s report. “The fact that I’m in front of you here today shows that we see these problems, we see where we’ve had successes, and we’re attacking those areas where we’ve got problems.”

But a senior defense official said Thursday that Panetta and military commanders would fix problems with prosecutions without legislation from Congress.

"We understand the need to hold commanders accountable, and they themselves want to be accountable,” said the official, speaking on the condition of anonymity. “This is a serious problem that has to be owned by, and solved by, the military."

Carrollc@stripes.osd.mil
Twitter: ChrisCarroll_

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