Thirty-eight soldiers, including 26 on active duty, are believed to have killed themselves in July—the highest monthly tally since the Army began reporting suicides by month in 2009.
The July active-duty total is more than double the 12 confirmed suicides for June, the Army said in a statement. So far this year, 116 active-duty soldiers are believed to have killed themselves. If that pace continues, the suicide count could reach 200 for 2012, compared with 165 for all of 2011.
“Suicide is the toughest enemy I have faced in my 37 years in the Army,” Gen. Lloyd J. Austin III, vice chief of staff of the Army, said in a statement. “That said, I do believe suicide is preventable. To combat it effectively will require sophisticated solutions aimed at helping individuals to build resiliency and strengthen their life coping skills.”
Earlier this summer, Defense Secretary Leon E. Panetta called suicide “perhaps the most frustrating challenge I’ve come across” as head of the nation’s military forces. The Department of Defense has launched myriad suicide-prevention initiatives in recent years, but Panetta said, “We can do more. We must do more.” He said key efforts involve leadership training, improving the quality of and access to behavioral health care, and increasing research in suicide prevention.
Suicides during deployment have been a concern of the military since 2003, when military officials—alarmed that 13 service members had killed themselves in Iraq in the first seven months of that war—pledged to improve mental-health services and break the stigma for troops who needed psychological help. But the suicide rate spiked again in 2005, when 22 soldiers killed themselves while serving in Iraq, and has continued to rise Army-wide.
After a series of stories in The Hartford Courant outlined gaps in mental-health treatment for troops who committed suicide, the military in 2006 adopted new deployment guidelines that expanded mental health screening for troops heading to war, and set limits on when troops with psychiatric problems can be kept in combat.