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April 6, 2013

VETERANS' CORNER: Suicides remain a military problem

By JIM VINES

Suicide remains a problem without a clear solution in both the active-duty and veterans communities.

After another rise in military suicides last year, the armed services last week outlined to Congress their efforts to reverse the trend and evaluate their prevention programs.

The Army set a record last year with 324 suicides. That after 183 active-duty Army soldiers took their lives in 2011, 38 more than the 2010 mark of 145. The Marine Corps, with 32 suicides last year, completes a second straight year of declining members after a peak of 52 suicides in 2010.

The Air Force counted 41 suicides though last year, down from 54 in 2012. The Navy has recorded 46 suicides, up from 39 last year.

Attention has turned to a particularly disturbing cause for suicide among service members – hazing. Both the Army and the Marine Corps are dealing with cases of suspected suicide in which fellow service members face charges related to mistreatment of the victim. Sadly. reported investigations show leaders are given a “slap on the wrist”, despite cruel, abusive and oppressive treatment.

Researchers estimate that military veterans try to commit suicide at a rate of 18 per day, though no official statistics are kept. Illness is attributed to these suicide attempts as veterans get older. Also, the most recent veterans of post traumatic stress disorder and traumatic brain injury are being addressed by the Department of Defense and Department of Veterans Affairs who continue to struggle with solutions.

The Pentagon’s relatively new Defense Suicide Prevention Office, which opened in 2011, is under review. By the end of September 2013, a comprehensive inventory of all service’s programs will identify gaps and overlaps. Once identified, the office will begin to streamline and unify what is offered across the services.

Most of the suicides are among junior enlisted soldiers, though the number of suicides by non-commissioned officers has increased over each of the last three years. The Army is working on changing its culture, which has been long over due for the need of mental health care.

The service claims to have made a dent in the stigma over recent years, pointing to survey results showing that the percentage of enlisted soldiers who thought seeking mental health care would harm their career dropped significantly from 2010 to 2012. All the service’s recognize the growing problem and are dedicated to the continued efforts to slow this epidemic down. 

Speak to you again next week.

Jim Vines is commander of AmVets Post 133.

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