10 August 2009

2008 Sets Record For Soldier Suicides

In 2008, 143 soldiers committed suicide, the highest number in the three decades that the Army has kept records.

From the Washington Post.

This includes 15 possible suicides. Classification issues are real, because suicides can be masked as accidents, battle deaths or ordinary acts of heroism. Most U.S. Medal of Honor winners in the Post 9-11 era, for example, were recognized for taking acts likely to (and actually) causing their deaths, when they didn't have to, in order to protect others (four of the six involve men who "took a hit for the team" by smothering a grenade to protect fellow service members).

The Army suicide rate is 20.2 per 100,000 according to the Army (as it includes activated Reserve and National Guard soldiers):

In 2007, the Army reported 115 confirmed suicides, the highest level since 1980, when it began tracking suicides. . . . Suicides for Marines were also up in 2008. Marines had 41 suicides in 2008, up from 33 in 2007 and 25 in 2006, according to a Marines report.

Suicide rates in the Army continue to be high in 2009.

While elevated by American standards, many Eastern European countries undergoing post-Cold War upheaval, Sri Lanka which has been torn asunder by decades of civil war, and several East Asian countries where suicide has held an accepted cultural role for centuries have comparable suicide levels among men (once one adjusts to include only adult men as Army numbers do).

Perhaps more notably, because many troubled soldiers are discharged when problems that could lead to suicide emerge, suicide rates among young male U.S. Veterans are much higher:

Suicide rates for young male Iraq- and Afghanistan-era veterans hit a record high in 2006, according to statistics to be released Tuesday by the Department of Veterans Affairs.

In 2006, the last year for which records are available, figures show there were about 46 suicides per 100,000 male veterans ages 18-29 who use VA services. That compares with about 20 suicides per 100,000 men of that age who are not veterans, VA records show.

This Iraq- and Afghanistan-era veterans suicide rate is exceeded only in four post-Soviet Republics (Lithuania, Belarus, Russia and Kazakhstan), although the limitation that the men "use VA services" means that it is a considerably narrower and more troubled population than the general male populations of those countries.

In, 2003, suicide rates for men 20-39 in the U.S. range from 20-23 per 100,000, by age group. Women are about 80% less likely then men to commit suicide than men overall, and women are less likely than men to commit suicide in every demographic.

The Army is disproportionately male (about 84% in 2008) and typical of the nation in African American population (about 16% in 2008 in the Army, compared to 17% in the general population aged 18-39 years old).

The Army is conducting a major study of the issue of elevated suicide rates.

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