The suicide rate among U.S. soldiers reached a 30-year high in 2008, surpassing the civilian rate for the first time since the Vietnam War, the New York Times reported Jan. 30.
The U.S. Army reported at least 128 suicides among soldiers serving in the Army, Army Reserve and National Guard, with the number likely to grow upon resolution of the cause of 15 more deaths. Approximately 20.2 of every 100,000 soldiers killed themselves, compared with the 2006 civilian rate of 19.2.
“This is not business as usual,” said Gen. Peter W. Chiarelli, the vice chief of staff of the Army, admitting the need “to move quickly to do everything we can to reverse the very disturbing number of suicides we have in the U.S. Army.” Chiarelli is in charge of the Army’s suicide-prevention efforts.
Although not specifying any particular cause for the increase, officials said that 15-month deployments in combat zones contributed to post-traumatic stress disorder, depression, addiction, and family problems.
The Army has ramped up its suicide-prevention efforts over the past two years, hiring more general practitioners to serve as a first line of engagement with soldiers in distress. It also hired 250 more providers of mental-health care, and is looking to hire an additional 50.
However, veteran advocates said that the problems remain widespread. “Since the Iraq war began, suicide rates and other signs of psychological injury, like marital strain and substance abuse, have been increasing every year,” said Paul Rieckhoff, the executive director of Iraq and Afghanistan Veterans of America.