The Associated Press reports today that suicides among service members climbed to record high of 349 in 2012, 48 more than in 2011.
Here’s a link to Robert Burns’ piece describing the increase. It includes the troubling observation that people studying the rising number of suicides do not expect the trend to reverse.
As Burns reports:
David Rudd, a military suicide researcher and dean of the College of Social and Behavioral Sciences at the University of Utah, said he sees two main categories of troops who are committing suicide at an accelerating pace: Iraq and Afghanistan war veterans suffering from depression, post-traumatic stress or substance abuse, and those who have not gone to war but face troubled personal relationships, money problems or legal woes.
He is not optimistic about a decline soon.
“Actually, we may continue to see increases,” he said.
Joint Base Lewis-McChord has not yet disclosed its number of suspected suicides for 2012. It had its worst year for suicides in 2011, when 13 soldiers took their own lives. When we last checked in September, nine deaths at Lewis-McChord were under investigation as possible suicides.
Lewis-McChord invited us out several times to observe different outreach efforts targeted at improving resiliency among troops last year.
One program aimed at intervening as quickly as possible when soldiers showed signs of distress. Another had soldiers take a break from the regular training in September to focus on suicide prevention.
And, last week we dropped in some life skills training for the base’s artillery brigade that included sessions on communication and suicide prevention. You can’t find THE answer to rising suicides at these classes, but yo u also can’t miss the sincerity soldiers show for figuring it out.
“The reason we’re still here in these classes is that people are still killing themselves,” chaplain Capt. Matthew Hebebrand told a group of artillery soldiers last week. “Until that number hits zero, we’ll keep doing this to raise awareness, so you can take care of the people to your right and your left.”
Democratic Sen. Patty Murray, the outgoing chairwoman of the Senate Veterans Affairs Committee, released a statement today in response to Burns’ story calling for quick action on recently approved legislation intended to improve behavioral health resources for active duty service members and veterans. Her bill calls on the Defense Department to standardize suicide prevention programs across the Armed Forces, among other proposals.
“This is an epidemic that cannot be ignored. As our newest generation of service members and veterans face unprecedented challenges, today’s news shows we must be doing more to ensure they are not slipping through the cracks,” she said. ” Providing comprehensive and coordinated care to our men and women in uniform is a step forward in making this a reality and I implore the VA and Pentagon to move quickly in implementing such measures as my Mental Health ACCESS Act. With one service member dying by suicide almost every single day, and 18 veterans dying by suicide every day, any delay on this is inexcusable.”