U.S. Army suicides hit new high for 2008

Thu Jan 29, 2009 5:51pm EST
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By David Morgan

WASHINGTON (Reuters) - Suicides in the U.S. Army jumped 11 percent to a all-time high in 2008, as the stress of ongoing wars in Iraq and Afghanistan took a greater toll on U.S. soldiers, the armed service said Thursday.

Preliminary figures, which showed the Army's suicide rate for the first time eclipsing the comparable suicide rate for U.S. civilians, prompted Army leaders to announce a new training and prevention campaign to identify soldiers at risk.

But Army officials acknowledged that the rising suicide trends that have occurred among active duty soldiers and reservists since 2004 have largely eluded efforts to understand and reverse the deadly phenomenon.

"This is a challenge of the highest order for us," U.S. Army Secretary Pete Geren told reporters.

"Why do the numbers keep going up? We cannot tell you. But we can tell you that across the Army, we're committed to doing everything we can to address the problem," he said.

The Army's latest data showed 128 confirmed suicides among active-duty soldiers in 2008, versus a previous record of 115 in 2007. Another 15 deaths were suspected suicides, and if confirmed, would push the suicide total for last year to 143.

The Army said the figures equal a rate of 20.2 suicides for every 100,000 soldiers. That is higher than the last available civilian rate of 19.5 suicides per 100,000 people with similar age and demographic backgrounds, which the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention reported for 2005.

The U.S. Marine Corps said separately that suicides within its force rose 24 percent to 41 cases in 2008, up from 33 in 2007. The Marine suicide rate was 19 for every 100,000 troops.   Continued...