Active Duty Suicides Rise To One-Per-Day As War Draws Down

By @TrishaMarczakMP |
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    (MintPress) – As the war draws down in Afghanistan, U.S. soldiers are committing suicide at the highest rate in 10 years, with an estimated one active duty soldier taking his or her life each day.

    A recent Associated Press report cites Pentagon statistics showing that 154 active duty soldiers have committed suicide this year — only 155 days into 2012. It’s a number that officially surpasses combat deaths, raising the issue that the agony of war is dealt with on the battlefield and in the mind.

    While number of suicides among troops is up this year, it has only experienced a steady growth since 2011, when, at the same time, the military was dealing with 130 suicides, according to the Associated Press.

    The statistics released Thursday only relate to active duty troops — in April, a report issued by the Center for a New American Security indicated that a U.S. veteran dies every 80 minutes due to suicide.

    While branches of the military have amped up their programs for suicide prevention and treatment for depression-related illnesses, such programs are under scrutiny, especially methods which rely on psychiatric medication for troops still serving in combat.

    The Journal of American Medical Association published a report in which it showed morphine and powerful painkillers being used to treat Post Traumatic Stress Disorders (PTSD), a mental illness often suffered by troops who have lived through the trauma associated with war. An Associated Press report in March cited a government study indicating veterans on PTSD drugs who also suffered from drug- and alcohol-related addictions were more likely to harm themselves.

    In 2007, the Army increased Suicide Prevention Coordinators in the ‘active component’ of the Guard and Reserve, while also creating a taskforce to take a look at trends within troop suicides.

    In 2008, the Army took it a step further, putting together a team to work with the Surgeon General on suicide prevention moving forward. What stemmed from such meetings were measures that largely attempted to change the culture of the Army, improving access to counselors and ridding the military branch of a “stigma of seeking mental health care,” according to the Army website.

    According to the recent Associated Press report, that’s a stigma that is still alive today, with one profiled military helicopter pilot who reportedly did not seek help in fear that it would be seen as a “sign of weakness.” He hanged himself upon returning from Iraq in 2005.

    The Army acknowledges the prevalence of suicide within its branch on its website, vowing dedication to help alleviate the pain felt by soldiers and families.

    “The loss of any American soldier’s life is a great tragedy, regardless of cause,” it states on the website. “In the case of suicide, the Army is committed to providing resources for awareness, intervention, prevention, and follow-up necessary to help our soldiers, civilians, and their families overcome difficult times.”

    The Army isn’t the only branch of the military that has buffed up its suicide prevention efforts. The Marines have also rolled out a new hotline for soldiers, who can seek help at any time, day or night. The branch has also been active, as of lately, in efforts to report high tendencies of suicide among Marines. In a news report published on its site, Marine Corps Times, it indicated that one in 10 Marines serving overseas had contemplated suicide.

    Citing data provided by the Naval Health Research Center, the story indicated that 1,517 active duty Marines and Navy sailors were included in studies that yielded the alarming results. The statistics were attributed to high stress situations of war paired with other factors, including alcohol use and “less social support.”

    According to the Associated Press, the Marines were the branch of government with the best grade in terms of successful suicide prevention methods. Despite the fact that overall suicides within the branch are up, they’re in line with the recent increased trend. The Army, Air Force and Navy all saw statistics that spiked beyond projected cases.

    Although the war in Afghanistan is drawing to a close, troops are expected to be on the ground until 2014 — during a time of increased stress relating to attacks from Taliban militants on U.S. and Afghan forces.

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