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Army Record Suicide Rate Continues, and Will Continue for Some Time

By Jon Soltz  |  Huffington Post  |  View story in the original context
PUBLISHED: December 14, 2009

In what is quickly becoming a year-end tradition, the Army reported that suicides are yet again at an all time high. Reports theWashington Post:

Army Vice Chief of Staff Gen. Peter W. Chiarelli on Tuesday called the Army's record suicide rate this year "horrible" and said the problem of soldiers taking their own lives is the toughest he has faced in his 37 years in service.


As of Nov. 16, 140 soldiers on active duty and 71 soldiers not on active duty were suspected to have committed suicide.

The suicide rate has broken its own record every year since 2006. Now, Chiarelli noted, and the Army must be credited with doing more to counsel soldiers to recognize when they need help, and seek help before it's too late. Indeed, the Post reports 40 percent of suicide victims this year did seek out mental counseling. Yet, it wasn't enough.

Additionally, Chiarelli told a real whopper at the press conference to announce the sobering news. "Chiarelli voiced frustration that the Army has not yet been able to identify any causal links among the suicide cases, except that soldiers are more likely to kill themselves when they are away from their stations, where help is available," the Post story states.

No causal links? Really? Then what about this, from coverage of the Army's own report back in 2007?

Failed personal relationships, legal and financial problems and work stress were motivating factors, the report said. It also found a significant link between suicide attempts and the number of days deployed in Iraq, Afghanistan or nearby countries where troops participate in the war effort.

Now, this isn't to say every soldier deployed frequently and for long periods will kill him or herself. But there's a "significant link" for many of those who do. There's also a significant link that by this time in late 2006, we had been engaged in two wars for three years, and many of our soldiers had involuntarily extended deployments (Stop Loss), saw longer deployments to begin with, and Dwell Time (the time between deployments) had been reduced.

That's why it is so disturbing that the military and Obama administration seems so blasé about not increasing Dwell Time for members of our Army. As my colleague Richard Smithreported last week at VetVoice.com, Admiral Mike Mullen, pressed by Congress on Dwell Time for our Army said:

"The Marine Corps next year will actually get out to a two-to-one [years] dwell time/deployment time ratio. The Army will not, still. The Army -- it'll take a couple more years to do that."

That's great for Marines, but not what our soldiers deserve as their suicide rate increases to record levels for the fourth year in a row. Not when the Army itself says there's a "significant link" between length of deployments and suicides. Even if the Obama administration doesn't use Stop Loss or increase deployments lengths to make their Afghanistan deployment schedule work, it's clear our soldiers need more of a break between time away.

The members of our military will go to war when called. That's their duty, and they take it seriously. No matter how much the Army counsels our soldiers, there will always stand the notion in the back of soldiers' minds that saying their heads can't take another deployment is a sign of weakness. Most of them won't admit when they need more time at home before they're fit to go back.

That's why it's up to the Pentagon and administration to give all of our troops -- especially our soldiers -- much needed rest. Unfortunately, as the administration's plans for Afghanistan stand right now, those soldiers won't get more time. Not for two years, at least, maybe more.

And that's why we're likely to continue this year-end tradition for 2010, 2011, and possibly beyond.

 

Follow Jon Soltz on Twitter: www.twitter.com/jonsoltz

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