DOD reports 377 suicides by active-duty service members in 2020

By THOMAS GNAU | The Dayton Daily News | Published: April 6, 2021

DAYTON, Ohio (Tribune News Service) — The number of overall active-duty military deaths by suicide grew in 2020, a new report from the Pentagon shows.

Overall, all branches of the military recorded 377 suicides among active-duty service members in 2020, up from 348 in the active-duty component in 2019, up 29 deaths or about 8%.

In all services, there were 99 suicides in the last quarter of 2020. That compares to 100 in the same quarter of 2019.

The Department of Defense's newest quarterly report shows 23 suicides among active-duty Air Force members in the fourth quarter of calendar year 2020, up from 22 in the same quarter of 2019.

Among Air Force Reserve members, there were two suicides in the fourth quarter of 2020, the same number as in the final quarter of 2019.

For all of 2020, the active-duty Air Force counted 81 suicides in 2020, down from the 82 counted for all of 2019.

For full-year 2020, the report showed 12 suicides for reserve Air Force members, down one from all of 2019.

"The Department of Defense (DoD) is fully committed to preventing suicides in our military community — every death by suicide is a tragedy," an introduction to the new report states. "The DoD recognizes the potential impact of the COVID-19 pandemic on the well-being of our service members and families. We are closely monitoring potential impacts and taking proactive steps to mitigate those potential impacts."

The report added: "During this time, we remain dedicated in our efforts to educate the force, support the force, and emphasize social connectedness."

The report cautions that the number of suicide deaths given are preliminary and subject to change, "as previously unknown cases are reported and some known cases are further investigated." Pentagon spokesman John Kirby echoed that message Wednesday.

Comparing the fourth quarters of 2019 and 2020, Air National Guard suicide deaths increased by 2, the report said.

Air Force and military leaders have grappled with the problem for years.

"One of my concerns here is COVID adds stress and we are, from a suicide perspective, we are on a path to be as bad as last year," Air Force Chief of Staff Gen. Charles Q. Brown Jr. said at the Air Force Sergeants Association virtual conference, as reported by Air Force Magazine last summer. "And it's not just an Air Force problem. This is a national problem, because COVID actually adds some additional stressors, and I would say the fear of the unknown."

"I'll be honest with the collective, we're struggling to figure out how to deal with this," he was also quoted as saying.

The National Suicide Prevention Hotline can be reached at (800) 273-8255, 24 hours a day.

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