U.S. Military Suicides Exceed Combat Fatalities—Again

Stigma, PTSD, Rx drugs and money problems are recipe for tragedy.

A U.S. Army soldier walks past his company’s kitchen board at Combat Operation Outpost Pashmul South in Zharay district of Kandahar province Afghanistan. (Photo: Shamil Zhumatov/Reuters)

Jun 7, 2012
Allan MacDonell is TakePart’s News + Opinion editor, with a focus on social justice.

Active U.S. military personnel are killing themselves at a higher rate than the enemy is killing them. According to an Associated Press impact study, 154 active-duty troops committed suicide in the first 155 days of 2012. By the AP’s calculations, so far in 2012, self-inflicted fatalities are approximately 50 percent higher than the number of U.S. forces killed by combatants in Afghanistan.

The number of soldier suicides had remained flat throughout 2010 and 2011. Reasons for the surge are open to interpretation. From the AP:

Among explanations, studies have pointed to combat exposure, post-traumatic stress, misuse of prescription medications and personal financial problems. Army data suggest soldiers with multiple combat tours are at greater risk of committing suicide, although a substantial proportion of Army suicides are committed by soldiers who never deployed.

The suicide numbers are unlikely to make an increasingly unpopular war in Afghanistan any more palatable to the American public, but suicide deaths exceeded combat fatalities in Afghanistan as far back as 2008 and 2009.

Responding to surges of suicides in 2006 and 2009, the Army, Navy and Marines have all geared up their suicide prevention programs.

The perceived stigma attached to a soldier seeking help for mental distress is believed to be a major obstacle to reducing the number of military suicides.

“We must continue to fight to eliminate the stigma from those with post-traumatic stress and other mental health issues,” Defense Secretary Leon Panetta wrote. “[Commanders] cannot tolerate any actions that belittle, haze, humiliate or ostracize any individual, especially those who require or are responsibly seeking professional services.”

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