Alarming Rise in Military Suicides: More Than Double Rate in 1999

AP’s Robert Burns yesterday delivered sad news on a large rise in the rate of military suicides.  Just over a month ago, Burns discovered that the military has been systematically under-reporting “green on blue” attacks in Afghanistan by only providing reports on deaths and not reporting attacks in which soldiers are wounded or unharmed.

Burns notes that suicides have held at almost exactly one each day for a period of almost half the year and that this is a large increase over what had been lower, steady rates the past two years. Sadly, deaths by suicide far outnumber combat deaths this year:

Suicides are surging among America’s troops, averaging nearly one a day this year — the fastest pace in the nation’s decade of war.

The 154 suicides for active-duty troops in the first 155 days of the year far outdistance the U.S. forces killed in action in Afghanistan— about 50 percent more — according to Pentagon statistics obtained by The Associated Press.


Because suicides had leveled off in 2010 and 2011, this year’s upswing has caught some officials by surprise.


The 2012 active-duty suicide total of 154 through June 3 compares to 130 in the same period last year, an 18 percent increase. And it’s more than the 136.2 suicides that the Pentagon had projected for this period based on the trend from 2001-2011. This year’s January-May total is up 25 percent from two years ago, and it is 16 percent ahead of the pace for 2009, which ended with the highest yearly total thus far.

Burns notes that although numerous mental health and counseling programs have been put in place suicides continue at a very high rate. Contributing factors are discussed:

The reasons for the increase are not fully understood. Among explanations, studies have pointed to combat exposure, post-traumatic stress, misuse of prescription medications and personal financial problems. Army data suggest soldiers with multiple combat tours are at greater risk of committing suicide, although a substantial proportion of Army suicides are committed by soldiers who never deployed.

I thought it would be informative to find the rate of suicides before the ten years of war in Afghanistan and Iraq. An AP article on military suicides from June, 2000 can be found here. It also was written by Robert Burns.

The suicides reported in that article for calendar year 1999 are broken down by branches of the armed services and in terms of deaths per 100,000 troops. The rates were 15.5 per 100,000 in the Army, 15 in the Marines, 11 in the Navy and 5.6 in the Air Force. Consulting this table of the number of active duty members of those branches, actual numbers come out to 65 suicides in the Army (although Burns noted there were 65 confirmed suicides and another 12 suspected suicides that are not included), 26 in the Marines, 41 in the Navy and 20 in the Air Force. That computes to a projected total of 152 suicides for calendar 1999. The total size of the force of active duty personnel for 1999 was 1,385,703.

Active duty forces now also total 1.4 million, so annual rates can be compared evenly. The rate for this year of 154 suicides in 155 days computes to a projected total of 363 suicides for this year. That suggests that after the decade of wars our armed forces have been asked to conduct, the suicide rate has more than doubled, going up by a factor of 2.4, from 152 per year to 363 while the force size has remained the same.


13 replies
  1. Jeff Kaye says:

    “… although numerous mental health and counseling programs have been put in place suicides continue at a very high rate”

    Only the military and its slavish followers are surprised by this, as if one could salve the brutality and inhumanity of war with mental health counseling! War is hell, and hell will eat away your humanity and your mind. The problem is not with the mental health system, but with the entire enterprise, engaging in a brutal counterinsurgency war against a population for whom you are only occupiers.

    On another level, I’ve heard military people blame the quality of the recruits, as the military has had difficulty fulfilling its manpower requirements, is overextended, etc. The staffing difficulty may be real, but blaming the soldiers is grotesque.

  2. Jim White says:

    @Jeff Kaye: Yes. And another point that I should have emphasized more is that these numbers are for active military only. Once they are discharged, these people immediately begin falling through the cracks, so much so that it’s doubtful there are any accurate numbers on suicide rates among veterans of these recent wars.

  3. MadDog says:

    When I heard this last night on the CBS Evening News, Scott Pelley provided a slight emphasis on this part:

    “…a substantial proportion of Army suicides are committed by soldiers who never deployed…”

    As I said, Pelley gave a slight emphasis to this aspect and wondered if the poor US economy was a factor. He wondered/noted that the US suicide rate was also up for the general American population.

    As Jeff notes, I think there is no doubt that a large factor has been the brutal and thankless wars the US has engaged in over the last 10 years in both Iraq and Afghanistan.

    A point that is not really examined by either the MSM, or apparently the leaders of our armed forces, is the long term acceptance of a suicide rate in the armed forces that is far higher than that of the general US population.

    Per the National Institute of Mental Health, in 2007 “[t]he overall rate was 11.3 suicide deaths per 100,000 people” in the general US population.

    This means that the suicide rate in the US armed forces has been massively more than that of the general US population for more than a dozen years, and the more than doubling of the suicide rate in the US armed forces now should have not only the US government leadership, but everyone running around with their hair on fire.

  4. Jim White says:

    @MadDog: Thanks for digging out the data on the rest of the US population. I should have found and included that in the post since it is a very important comparison. Note that the numbers for 1999 in suicides per 100,000 higher are than that general population number for the Army and Marines and lower for the Air Force. The Navy number matches the general population number.

  5. MadDog says:

    @Jim White: When the US government breaks down the armed forces numbers between the individual services, it seems to have both positive and negative effects.

    It makes being in the Air Force look positively like the best place to be.

    But when you add the individual services’ numbers together, you get a distinctly different picture of an apparent tolerated suicide rate that is almost criminal.

  6. earlofhuntingdon says:

    Asymmetrical recruitment. We can’t blame the military and their political “overlords” (clients? patrons?) when normal people reject their part in the death and horror of war through self-maiming. That would be shrill. Really, blaming recruits for their own PTSD and other stress-related suicides is newspeak. Most of these should be listed as combat-related deaths.

  7. Man UP Dude says:

    you didn’t blockquote the best part of the article!!

    Major General (Two Stars on collar) Dana Pittard, commander of the 1st Armored Division, last month retracted — but did not apologize for — a statement in his Army blog in January.

    He had written, “I have now come to the conclusion that suicide is an absolutely selfish act.”

    He also wrote, “I am personally fed up with soldiers who are choosing to take their own lives so that others can clean up their mess. Be an adult, act like an adult, and deal with your real-life problems like the rest of us.”

    reminds us of Patton slapping the shell shocked troops back in WWII.

  8. P J Evans says:

    The one person I knew who killed himself had at least one deployment in Iraq, probably had at least one before that in the Middle East, and had health problems which were not being helped by either the VA or the military system. (I know about it because he was the stepson of a cousin; the cousin’s father was a doctor and a veteran himself, and was helping him deal with the system before he died.)

  9. Cheryl Schmidt says:

    Too often, the cities and towns our military bases are located in have a civilian population and businesses that treat soldiers with such disrespect, it is abhorrent. I’m a member of several military mom discussion groups (Facebook, Twitter, etc.) and the reputations are unanimously known among “moms.” We share information about which military base towns have civilian police who treat the soldiers with disrespect, which community members do very little for the military stationed in their towns and are even rude and disrespectful to them, and which local businesses are unfair to soldiers; I could go on. In far too many cases, everyone from the cable TV company to the local convenience store is working to make an extra dollar off them, then blame the soldiers’ “rowdy behaviors” as a way to justify their criminal actions. The comment we hear over and over again from our soldiers is, “They love me everywhere but where I’m stationed.” This is nothing new to the military. You see the same thing in predominantly college towns, etc. The difference is the mindset of these young people in colleges and universities and those in the military. Please remember that every young soldier who’s been deployed multiple times or is waiting nervously for a first deployment is not always living in a town with open arms and caring, loving people. It’s a shameful, possibly small reality, but any strong person would break down when those around him have no compassion and empathy but rather contempt and disregard for him. Something has to be done to mend fences within these military towns to improve our sons’ and daughters’ living conditions!

  10. Jim White says:

    @Cheryl Schmidt: Thanks for pointing out a very important point and for your work on behalf of military families.

    One observation that I would add to that is that communities surrounding bases often are subject to abject poverty because of the paltry salaries paid to enlisted troops. I drive through Fort Benning several times a year and nearly come to tears seeing that the only thriving businesses in Columbus, Georgia are pawn shops, title loan companies and used tire shops. These enlisted soldiers and their families are living paycheck to paycheck and but are still forced to rely on desperate measures between checks. Many of these businesses don’t just disrespect the soldiers, they blatantly exploit their economic situations with abusive interest rates.

  11. Brenda Koehler says:

    @Cheryl Schmidt:

    Many people see the wars we are currently fighting as pointless and unjust, and more than that–as draining our country of money to the point where we can’t pay for schools, Social Security or basic human services or non-military employment.

    Many people including myself don’t see these wars as defense of our country or freedoms at all, and more than that–see them as propagating the wholesale murder of innocent children on an ongoing basis, so maybe that is why some are not favorably disposed toward people who volunteer to fight in them.

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