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Military suicides remain constant despite Pentagon efforts

By HEATH DRUZIN | STARS AND STRIPES Published: October 2, 2015

WASHINGTON — Despite an ongoing Pentagon campaign to combat suicide, the numbers of troops who killed themselves held steady in the first half of 2015, with active duty numbers down and reserve numbers up over the same period last year, according to the most recent Department of Defense statistics.

The Defense Department quarterly statistics, released Wednesday, show 219 troops took their lives in the first half of this year, as compared to 223 in the first half of 2014. Military suicides are down 8 percent from the first half of 2013, when there were 238.

For this year, the number of suicides breaks down to 130 among active duty troops and 89 among the Reserves and National Guard. That represents a 9 percent drop for active duty troops and a 10 percent rise for reserve troops over the same period last year.

Military suicide statistics often change as investigations into deaths are resolved. These numbers reflect only “confirmed” cases.

In response to a Stars and Stripes query, the Pentagon released a statement saying that more troops have been seeking assistance, but it did not include statistics backing that claim.

“DOD considers one loss to suicide too many, so we will continue our efforts,” the statement reads. “We’ve been encouraged to see increases in help-seeking behaviors. We will continue to do everything possible to prevent suicide in our military.”

The numbers have been declining since 2012, when 525 troops took their lives. In 2013, 474 troops killed themselves, as compared with 443 in 2014.

For several years the military has been grappling with how to combat suicide, especially among the Guard and Reserves, whose rates have run well above that of the general public. The Pentagon has aired public service ads, launched help lines and employed top-ranking leaders to remove the stigma of mental health disorders and asking for help.

What exactly is causing the high suicide rate is unclear. Many troops have endured multiple combat deployments over the last 14 years of wars in Iraq and Afghanistan, but studies have been inconclusive about the effects of combat on the suicide rate.

druzin.heath@stripes.com
Twitter: @Druzin_Stripes
 

A Department of Defense illustration depicts the idea that 22 veterans commit suicide every day, based on data compiled from 21 states from 1999 to 2011 and released by the Department of Veterans Affairs in February 2015.
CHRISTOPHER GRIFFIN/U.S. AIR FORCE

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