2012 Military Suicides Hit a Record High of 349 : NPR
Officials say they are committed to pursuing ways of finding help for service members in trouble.
“Our most valuable resource within the department is our people. We are committed to taking care of our people, and that includes doing everything possible to prevent suicides in the military,” Pentagon spokeswoman Cynthia O. Smith said Monday.
Two retired Army generals, Peter W. Chiarelli and Dennis J. Reimer, have spoken out about the urgency of reversing the trend.
“One of the things we learned during our careers,” they wrote in The Washington Post last month, “is that stress, guns and alcohol constitute a dangerous mixture. In the wrong proportions, they tend to blow out the lamp of the mind and cause irrational acts.”
As recently as 2005 the Army’s suicide total was less than half last year’s.
Joe Davis, spokesman for the Washington office of the Veterans of Foreign Wars, said war veterans have faced difficulty adjusting to the less intense environment of their home bases. Others struggle with leaving the military in search of work in a tight civilian job market.
“It’s difficult to come back from a war footing to garrison life,” he said, where more mundane problems intrude on troops who had been focused almost entirely on their war mission.
Each year the Pentagon performs an in-depth study of the circumstances of each suicide. The most recent year for which that analysis is available is 2011, and among the findings was that those who took their own lives tended to be white men under the age of 25, in the junior enlisted ranks, with less than a college education.
The analysis of 2011’s 301 military suicides also found that the suicide rate for divorced service members was 55 percent higher than for those who were married. It determined that 60 percent of military suicides were committed with the use of firearms — and in most cases the guns were personal weapons, not military-issued.
That study also found that most service members who attempted suicide — about 65 percent — had a known history of behavior problems, whereas 45 percent of those who actually completed the act and killed themselves had such a history.
One such case was Army Spc. Christopher Nguyen, 29, who killed himself last August at an off-post residence he shared with another member of the 82nd Airborne Division at Fort Bragg, N.C., according to his sister, Shawna Nguyen.
“He was practically begging for help and nothing was done,” she said in an interview.