Pentagon Looks for Answers to High Rates of Soldier Suicide

A report released Thursday by the Pentagon indicates that, for the first time since the Vietnam War, more Army members than civilians are committing suicide, according to the New York Times. It is not only the soldiers facing several tours of duty who are taking their own lives, the Times reports. This epidemic is reaching even those who have never reached the frontlines. Much of the blame is being laid on a lack of attention paid by commanding officers to alarming behaviors exhibited by their soldiers, as well as a rise in soldiers exhibiting alarming behavior, thanks in part to more lax recruiting standards and a changing military demographic.

Most new recruits are 18 to 20 years old, a statistically high-risk group for suicide because of their age. But General Chiarelli said the suicide rate for soldiers who first entered the Army in their late 20s was three times higher than for those in the younger group.

General Chiarelli said he did not want to typecast, "but I think it's fair to say in some instances it would be a soldier that's possibly married, couple of kids, lost his job, no health care insurance, possibly a single parent." Such a soldier, General Chiarelli said, "is coming in the Army to start all over again, and we see this high rate of suicide."

Accusations of inadequate mental health care has plagued the Army for several years. Two years ago, NEWSWEEK reported on the record-breaking 2007 suicide rates. That article cited a statistic originally reported by the Washington Post: in2001 the rate of active-duty Army suicides was 9.8 for every 100,000 soldiers. The current rate, reported yesterday, is 20 suicides for every 100,000 active duty soldiers.

And in 2009, the AP reported on a similar release by the Pentagon, in which more record breaking numbers were released, but officials were hopeful about getting them under control with psychological health outreach efforts. But a Times article from earlier this year painted a picture of mental health programs that relied too heavily on medication and left members of the military being treated for PTSD feeling ashamed and unvalued.

According to the Times, the Pentagon hopes to increase mental health screening and substance abuse programs as part of the plan to decrease the suicide rate.