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Suicides nearly double among Army guardsmen, reservists

By LEO SHANE III | STARS AND STRIPES Published: January 19, 2011

WASHINGTON — The number of suicides among Army National Guardsmen and reservists nearly doubled last year, even as suicide totals among active-duty soldiers saw a slight decline for the first time in recent years.

Army leaders announced the news as evidence that their suicide prevention programs are working, but also that those resources don’t reach far enough to help soldiers who live off base or don’t interact daily with the rest of the force.

“Clearly, there is much to be done,” Army Vice Chief of Staff Gen. Peter Chiarelli said in a Wednesday news conference. “I assure you, we remain committed to finding further ways to promote resiliency, reduce the incidents of high-risk behavior, improve the quality of family and soldier support programs, and eliminate the stigma of seeking help.”

Defense Department officials have boosted suicide prevention efforts in recent years as each of the services has seen increases in the numbers of troops taking their own lives.

For 2010, only the Air Force saw an increase in its active-duty suicide numbers. But the Army data released Wednesday shows that even improvements in reaching troops most affected by pace and deployment of the wars overseas only addresses part of the problem.

Army officials said preliminary research suggests 156 active-duty soldiers committed suicide in 2010, down six from the previous year. Another 145 guardsmen and reservists took their own lives, up from 80 in 2009.

Army National Guard acting director Maj. Gen. Raymond Carpenter said fewer than half of those not on active duty had been deployed overseas as part of the war effort.

“There is no one easy answer to what causes it,” he said.

Chiarelli said recent efforts such as the Comprehensive Soldier Fitness program have helped spread the Army’s anti-suicide message effectively among the active-duty force, especially over the last year.

“I’ve got to believe that the involvement of our leadership and the programs we’ve rolled out have saved soldiers' lives,” he said.

The key now, he said, will be expanding the reach of those programs, connecting with reserve organizations and private employers with reservist employees to better gauge their mental health and provide them with resources to deal with suicidal individuals.

shanel@stripes.osd.mil