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Tuesday, April 13, 2010

Latest Military Combat Veteran Suicide Statistics

Military suicide figures recently reported on in the press. First up, Mark Thompson asks in an article for Time magazine, Is the U.S. Army Losing Its War on Suicide?

From the invasion of Afghanistan until last summer, the U.S. military had lost 761 soldiers in combat there. But a higher number in the service — 817 — had taken their own lives over the same period. The surge in suicides, which have risen five years in a row, has become a vexing problem for which the Army's highest levels of command have yet to find a solution despite deploying hundreds of mental-health experts and investing millions of dollars. And the elephant in the room in much of the formal discussion of the problem is the burden of repeated tours of combat duty on a soldier's battered psyche. ...

[T]he service's suicide rate continues to rise (it doubled between 2001 and 2006) while remaining flat in the civilian population, even when adjusted to reflect the Army's age and gender. Last year, 160 active-duty soldiers killed themselves, up from 140 in 2008 and 77 in 2003.

In educational interest, article(s) quoted from extensively.

Tom Spoth, Air Force Times:

Airmen are killing themselves at the highest rate in 15 years, and the brass is worried.

Eleven active-duty airmen had committed suicide through March 19, which projects to an annual rate of 13.7 suicides per 100,000 airmen. The numbers were already trending upward: The 2008 and 2009 rates were 12.4 and 12.5, after averaging fewer than 10 from 1998 through 2007. By comparison, the Army and Marine Corps had rates last year of 23 and 24. The Navy has not released its 2009 rate, but Air Force Times calculated it at 14.5 using data released by the service. The civilian suicide rate was 10.9 in 2006, the last year for which data are available. ...

The Air Force has been a leader in suicide prevention for nearly 15 years. After watching its suicide rate peak at higher than 16 in the mid-1990s, the service established a prevention program focused on fostering a sense of community and identifying problems before airmen became suicidal. By the end of the decade, the suicide rate fell below 6. ...

Enlisted male airmen are most likely to commit suicide. Men make up about 80 percent of the force and account for 95 percent of suicides; enlisted airmen are about 80 percent of the force and account for 90 percent of suicides, he said.

Meanwhile, U.S. forces are hardly the only ones dealing with such issues. Juliet O'Neill, Montreal Gazette:

Suicide was the third leading cause of Canadian military deaths after motor vehicle accidents and cancer in a newly published study of 25 years of death records. ... The study published in the American Journal of Preventive Medicine attributed one in 10 of the deaths to alcohol.

There's really no way of knowing if someone would have committed suicide if they had not been drunk, Tien said in an interview. But high blood alcohol concentration was found in 70 of 289 suicides.

And 75 of 384 traffic deaths were attributed to drunk driving, the cause of a lot of carnage Tien sees in his work as trauma surgeon at Sunnybrook hospital in Toronto. He is also an adviser to the surgeon general of the Canadian Forces.

The study was based on death certificates, autopsies and other records that provided a cause of death for 91 per cent of 1,889 Forces members who died between Jan. 1, 1983 and Dec. 31, 2007.

Traumatic injuries caused 57 per cent of the deaths, and medical disease 43 per cent. The four leading causes of death were motor-vehicle crashes (384 deaths, 22 per cent); neoplasm (374 deaths, 22 per cent); suicide (289 deaths, 17 per cent); and cardiovascular disease (285 deaths, 17 per cent).

The study found 70 combat deaths accounted for less than five per cent of the deaths. Fifty-nine of those deaths occurred during the last two years of the study, when Canadian Forces were deployed in Afghanistan where military fatalities now have reached 142.

As for British forces: Lucy Cockcroft, Telegraph:

Statistics show that although the general suicide rate across the serving Armed Forces is much lower than in the rest of the British population, male soldiers aged between 16 and 19 are at a significantly increased risk.

Between 1984, when records began, and 2009, there have been 71 self-inflicted deaths within the Army in that age group, equivalent to 51 per cent higher than the national rate among civilians.

The research did not include analysis as to why the rate was so increased, but the pressures of combat and training are understood to be the main contributors. ...

In the past 26 years there have been 737 reported suicides in the regular Armed Forces, and a further 23 have yet to be ruled on by a coroner. The Army was the branch of the military with the highest rate at 13 per 100,000 serving personnel, compared to 9 for the Royal Navy and 10 for the RAF.

Servicemen were less susceptible to suicide than the general population, with the Navy and RAF at a 55 per cent lower risk while the Army was at 31 per cent.
An MoD spokesman said: "There has been a clear downward trend in the suicide rate in the Armed Forces over the last 26 years. Indeed, overall suicide rate for the UK regular Armed Forces is 43 per cent lower than the UK general population.

Closer to home, Bob Woodruff and Michael Murray have a piece up at ABC News highlighting the plight of two families dealing with the loss of their returned veterans, loved ones to suicide.

Sobering statistics.

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