January 22, 2009 / 11:58 PM / 10 years ago

Stress, command flaws behind suicides: U.S. Army

HOUSTON (Reuters) - A U.S. Army probe into suicides among Houston-based recruiters, all veterans of combat in Iraq and Afghanistan, said medical problems factored in the deaths but none had been diagnosed with post-traumatic stress disorder.

Four members of the Houston Recruiting Battalion, which covers hundreds of square miles (kms) from Houston to the Arkansas border, took their lives between January 2005 and September 2008, and U.S. lawmakers including Texas Sen. John Cornyn are pressing the military for answers.

In October last year, Cornyn told top Army officials he had seen evidence that senior battalion leaders interfered with official investigations and covered up serious problems like “a toxic command climate” and poor morale.

An Army statement on the investigation, released on Wednesday, made no mention of cover-ups.

“Relevant factors included the command climate, stress, personal matters, and medical problems,” it said.

The Army said none of the dead recruiters was diagnosed with post-traumatic stress disorder, which can stem from wartime trauma such as being wounded or seeing others killed.

Each had troubled relationships with wives and girlfriends, and many were subjected to “abusive and humiliating treatment” by their superiors for failing to meet quotas, Cornyn said.

The Army Recruiting Command will hold a rare “stand down” day on February 13 to train staff on suicide prevention, and the Army’s inspector general will assess the “command climate” among all U.S. recruiters, the Army said.

Cornyn has called for the Senate Armed Services Committee to hold hearings on the Army recruiter suicide trend. Suicides among active duty U.S. troops have risen to an estimated 130 in 2008 from 67 in 2004, according to military data.

The Army must address the root cause of the problem — the stigma associated with masculine warriors seeking mental counseling, said Todd Bowers, director of government affairs with advocacy group Iraq and Afghanistan Veterans of America.

Nationwide, 17 recruiters have killed themselves since 2001, and the Army’s suicide rate could surpass that of the general U.S. population for the first time since the Vietnam War.

Editing by Xavier Briand

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