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The Financial Times, July 30, 2010

US army suicide rate exceeds national average

“Simply stated, we are often more dangerous to ourselves than the enemy,”

By Anna Fifield

Washington - The suicide rate in the US army now exceeds the rate across the US as a whole, with an increasing number of active duty soldiers taking their lives due to stress, according to a in-depth army study into the effect of nine years of war on its troops.

If deaths associated with high-risk behaviours – including drink-driving and drug overdoses – are taken into account, more soldiers are dying by their own hand than in combat, the report found.

The report found that 160 active duty soldiers took their lives in the 2009 fiscal year, putting the army suicide rate at a record 20.2 per 100,000, exceeding the national average of 19.2 for the first time.
Suicide and accidental death rates began rising in 2004, the year after the invasion of Iraq. More than 80 per cent of the suicides committed last year occurred in the US.
The Financial Times, Jul. 30, 2010

“Simply stated, we are often more dangerous to ourselves than the enemy,” said the report, the result of a 15-month study that concludes the military needs to pay more attention to mental health and discipline soldiers for substance abuse and criminal behaviour.

The US military has been stretched thin by the wars in Afghanistan and Iraq, with many troops being sent on four or five war-zone deployments since 2001, straining their relationships and their mental wellbeing.

Although the US army will end its combat operations in Iraq next month, 50,000 troops will remain, along with the increased numbers deployed to counter-insurgency efforts in Afghanistan.

The report found that 160 active duty soldiers took their lives in the 2009 fiscal year, putting the army suicide rate at a record 20.2 per 100,000, exceeding the national average of 19.2 for the first time.

Suicide and accidental death rates began rising in 2004, the year after the invasion of Iraq. More than 80 per cent of the suicides committed last year occurred in the US.

Even compared to other military services, the army suicide rate exceeds all except for the marine corps, which has also spiked sharply in the last five years.

The report notes that the army and marines have borne “the greatest burden of ground combat in a protracted war”.

The most prevalent stress was relationship problems, which were a factor in about one in six suicides last year. The report noted that relationships could be affected by stress resulting from deployments or other separations, family pressures and substance abuse.

The “unprecedented operational tempo” of the last few years meant that military leaders were primarily focused on preparing for the next deployment, to the detriment of policies designed to ensure good order and discipline, said General George Casey, the army’s chief of staff.

“After nearly a decade of war we must keep pace with the expanding needs of our strained army, and continuously identify and address the gaps that exist in our policies, programmes and services,” Gen Casey said.

“This comprehensive review exposes gaps in how we identify, engage, and mitigate high-risk behaviour among our soldiers,” he said.

The army’s top brass has ordered greater attention be paid to encouraging healthy behaviour among soldiers and supporting them and their families, as well as cracking down on substance abuse.

The report found a sharp increase in the number of soldiers taking prescription drugs, leading to a “pervasive climate of prescription medication use”.

Use of antidepressants and painkillers has tripled in the past five years, with latest estimates suggesting about 106,000 soldiers are on some form of depression, anxiety or pain medication.

The report blames the army leadership for many of these problems. “Soldiers who are prone to practice high-risk behaviour have little reason to question consequence, as they see there will likely be none,” it said.

Category: US-NATO, Healthcare/Environment - Views: 9793


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