Army suicides at record pace in '08
September 6, 2008
ARLINGTON, Va. — The number of Army suicides this year could surpass 2007’s record high.
Last year, 115 soldiers committed suicide, the highest number since the Army started keeping data in 1980.
As of August 31, 62 active-duty soldiers had committed suicides and another 31 suspected suicides are pending final cause of death determination, said Col. Eddie Stephens, deputy director for human resource policy for the Army G1.
That is 13 to 15 deaths higher than this time last year, Stephens told reporters during an Army roundtable Thursday.
“We average about 10 suicides that occur throughout the Army per month, and just doing my simple math, on my fingers that I got, if I go through the numbers, that tells me with four months remaining in the year, I’m probably going to surpass 115,” he said.
Brig. Gen. Rhonda Cornum, assistant surgeon general for force protection, could not give a specific reason for the increase.
To combat suicides, the Army is introducing an interactive video, deploying more mental health providers, having more suicide intervention training for all soldiers and starting a resilience training program in January 2009 for recruits in basic training to “measurably increase resilience in our young soldiers,” Cornum said.
“One of the things that we haven’t done — we have not done enthusiastically in the past that this year we are really focusing on is doing something,” she said.
Cornum explained that soldiers have been trained to recognize the signs of a soldier having a problem, but they were not trained what to do about it.
“Take away the weapon, for example, if the person is playing Russian roulette with it,” she said.
Army officials stressed that there is no one solution to preventing suicides.
“This is not a bullet. It’s a tapestry: More than one piece,” said Army spokesman Paul Boyce.
A brigade combat team commander in Iraq said that one way his unit combats suicides is by granting leave to soldiers who are having family trouble at home.
“The way we see it is that’s an investment in our soldiers,” said Col. Michael McBride, head of the 1st Brigade Combat Team, 101st Airborne Division (Air Assault).
McBride told reporters at a separate event Thursday that he understands the soldiers who go home will return to the fight.
“So if they’re having a problem at home and we can keep a family together, reduce stress by sending a soldier home so he can take care of that problem, we’re doing that and we’re giving the soldier the benefit of the doubt,” he said.
So far, the brigade has not had any suicides since it deployed last fall, McBride said.
“Really the key there is our junior leaders communicating and then listening to our junior soldiers, and then leaders talking to other leaders.”