Army sui­cides rise

Rate up de­spite in­creased men­tal health mea­sures

The Covington News - - Health & Wellness - By Pauline Je­linek

WASH­ING­TON — Mul­ti­ple new ef­forts aimed at stem­ming sui­cides in the Army are fall­ing short of their goal: The ser­vice an­tic­i­pates an­other jump in the an­nual num­ber of sol­diers who killed them­selves or tried to, in­clud­ing in the Iraq and Afghanistan war zones.

As many as 121 sol­diers com­mit­ted sui­cide in 2007, an in­crease of some 20 per­cent over 2006, ac­cord­ing to pre­lim­i­nary fig­ures re­leased Thurs­day.

The num­ber who tried to com­mit sui­cide or in­jured them­selves for some other rea­son jumped six- fold in the last sev­eral years — from 350 in 2002 to about 2,100 in­ci­dents last year.

Of­fi­cials said an un­known por­tion of that in­crease was likely due to use of a new elec­tronic track­ing sys­tem that is more thor­ough in cap­tur­ing health data than the pre­vi­ous sys­tem.

The in­creases come de­spite a host of ef­forts to im­prove the men­tal health of a force that has been stressed by lengthy and re­peated de­ploy­ments to the longer- than- ex­pected war in Iraq, and the most deadly year yet in the now six- year- old con­flict in Afghanistan.

“ We have been per­turbed by the rise de­spite all of our ef­forts,” said Col. El­speth Ritchie, psy­chi­a­try con­sul­tant to the Army sur­geon gen­eral.

Those ef­forts in­clude more train­ing and ed­u­ca­tion pro­grams, the hir­ing of more men­tal health pro­fes­sion­als and the ad­di­tion of screen­ing pro­grams launched af­ter a suc­ces­sion of stud­ies found the mil­i­tary’s peace­time health care sys­tem over­whelmed by troops com­ing home from the two for­eign wars.

“ We know we’ve been do­ing a lot of train­ing and ed­u­ca­tion,” Ritchie told a Pen­tagon press con­fer­ence. “ Clearly we need to be do­ing more.”

The pre­lim­i­nary fig­ures on 2007 show that among ac­tive duty sol­diers and Na­tional Guard and Re­serve troops that have been ac­ti­vated there were 89 con­firmed sui­cides and 32 deaths that are sus­pected sui­cides but still un­der in­ves­ti­ga­tion.

Less than a third of those who com­mit­ted sui­cide — about 34 — hap­pened dur­ing de­ploy­ments in Iraq. That com­pared with 27 in Iraq the pre­vi­ous year. Four were con­firmed in Afghanistan com­pared with three there in 2006.

The to­tal of 121, if all are con­firmed, would be more than dou­ble the 52 re­ported in 2001, be­fore the Sept. 11 at­tacks prompted the Bush ad­min­is­tra­tion to launch its counter- ter­ror war. The toll was 87 by 2005 and 102 in 2006.

Of­fi­cials said the rate of sui­cides per 100,000 ac­tive duty sol­diers has not yet been cal­cu­lated for 2007.

The 2006 toll of 102 trans­lated to a rate of 17.5 per 100,000, the high­est since the Army started count­ing in 1980, of­fi­cials said.

The rate has fluc­tu­ated over those years, with the low be­ing 9.1 per 100,000 in 2001.

That toll and rate for 2006 is a re­vi­sion from fig­ures re­leased in Au­gust. Of­fi­cials ear­lier had re­ported that 99 sol­diers had killed them­selves in 2006 and two cases were pend­ing — as op­posed to the 102 now all con­firmed. It’s com­mon for in­ves­ti­ga­tions to take time and for of­fi­cials to study re­sults at length be­fore re­leas­ing them pub­licly.

Ritchie said Thurs­day, as she did last year, that of­fi­cials are find­ing that failed per­sonal re­la­tion­ships are the main mo­tive for the sui­cides, fol­lowed by le­gal and fi­nan­cial prob­lems as well as job- re­lated dif­fi­cul­ties.

Long and re­peated tours of duty away from home con­trib­ute sig­nif­i­cantly in that they weigh heav­ily on fam­ily re­la­tions and com­pound the other prob­lems, of­fi­cials said.

“ Peo­ple don’t tend to sui­cide as a di­rect re­sult of com­bat,” Ritchie said. “ But the fre­quent de­ploy­ments strain re­la­tion­ships. And strained re­la­tions and di­vorce are def­i­nitely re­lated to in­creased sui­cide.”

With the Army stretched thin by years of fight­ing the two wars, the Pen­tagon last year ex­tended nor- mal tours of duty from 12 months to 15 months and has sent some troops back to the wars sev­eral times. The Army has been hop­ing to re­duce tour lengths this sum­mer.

But the prospect could de­pend heav­ily on what Gen. David Pe­traeus, the top U. S. com­man­der in Iraq, rec­om­mends when he gives his as­sess­ment of se­cu­rity in Iraq and troop needs to Congress in April.

U. S. Sen. Patty Murray, D- Wash., a lead­ing critic of the treat­ment given re­turn­ing Iraq and Afghanistan vet­er­ans, called the new fig­ures “ heart- wrench­ing.”

“ Un­til they come to grips with how long and fre­quent de­ploy­ments are strain­ing sol­diers and shat­ter­ing lives we will con­tinue to see this fright­en­ing trend,” she said.

“And as the White House sig­nals that there won’t be any fur­ther troop cuts be­yond July, there is dwin­dling hope that things will turn around soon,” she said.

Be­cause of im­proved se­cu­rity in Iraq in re­cent months, the ad­min­is­tra­tion has started to draw down ex­tra troops sent last year. But Bush and com­man­ders have been in­di­cat­ing re­luc­tance to con­tinue cuts be­yond July out of fear the frag­ile se­cu­rity gains could be lost.

“The Vi­o­lin­ist” by An­gel Boligan

Newspapers in English

Newspapers from USA

© PressReader. All rights reserved.