Members of the U.S. Army Old Guard place flags at gravesites at Arlington National Cemetery May 27, 2010, in Arlington, Va.(Photo: Mark Wilson, Getty Images)
With six weeks left in the year, the Army and Navy are already
reporting record numbers of suicides, with the Air Force and Marine
Corps close to doing the same, making 2012 the worst year for military
suicides since careful tracking began in 2001.
The deaths are now
occurring at a rate faster than one per day. On Nov. 11, confirmed or
suspected suicides among active-duty forces across the military reached
323, surpassing the Pentagon's previous high of 310 suicides set in
Of that total, the Army accounted for 168, surpassing its
high last year of 165; 53 sailors took their own lives, one more than
The Air Force and Marine Corps are only a few deaths
from record numbers. Fifty-six airmen had committed suicide as of Nov.
11, short of the 60 in 2010. There have been 46 suicides among Marines,
whose worst year was 2009 with 52.
"We continue to reach out to
and embrace those who are struggling," the Army's chief personnel
officer, Lt. Gen. Howard Bromberg, said in a statement Sunday. "We've
taken great strides to prevent suicides, but our work isn't done."
and medical leaders have been searching for answers to what Defense
Secretary Leon Panetta describes as an "epidemic" of suicides ever since
the numbers began increasing among soldiers and Marines in 2005.
Military suicide researcher David Rudd sees a direct link with the effects of combat and frequent deployments.
reason you're going to see record numbers is because these wars are
drawing down and these young men and women are returning home," Rudd
said. "When they return home, that's where the conflicts surface."
post-traumatic stress disorder was not a factor in large numbers of
suicides, data show, among nearly 85% there were failed relationships,
something linked to frequent separations.
Still, at at least a
third of soldiers who killed themselves this year never went to war, and
some leaders draw a correlation with societal stress, perhaps related
to the poor economy.
"This is not just a military issue or an Army issue," said Gen. Lloyd Austin III, Army vice chief of staff.
"Across the military, we're a microcosm of what's in the nation," said Navy Vice Adm. Martha Herb, director personnel readiness.
The trend in suicides now seems to be impacting the branches that have had fewer troops in combat: the Navy and Air Force.
rates for the military, while rising, have remained lower than for the
general population until this year. The current rate for the Army is
close to 30 per 100,000, outpacing an estimated 24-per-100,000 rate
among a demographically similar civilian population, according to
The record-setting numbers reported by the
military pertain only to active duty troops. The Army, for example, has
recorded an additional 114 suicides among G.I.s in the National Guard or
Reserve who were demobilized its citizen soldiers.
suicides among those on active duty and demobilized status are combined,
the number exceeds the 207 soldiers who have died so far this year in
Afghanistan, a difference further skewed because some of those combat
zone deaths were also suicides.
The military in recent years has
invested more than $50 million in research efforts to produce
evidence-based tools for preventing suicide.
Among the first
studies is one involving 50 soldiers who attempted suicide at Fort
Carson, Colo. It recently found that by teaching them meditation and
relaxation skills to manage emotions and relationships, suicidal
behavior was dramatically reduced, said Rudd, who is leading the
"We weren't thinking about the issue as really one of curing mental illness," he said. "(It) is about installation of hope."