November 01, 2011

Report: Suicide increase threatens volunteer military's future

Military suicides are such a serious and growing problem that they threaten the future of the voluntary military, a new report warns.

The study from the Center for a New American Security says the upswing in suicides during the wars in Afghanistan and Iraq will undercut recruitment and public confidence.

"America is losing its battle against suicide by veterans and service members," the report says. "As more troops return from deployment, the risk will only grow."

The report says that suicides have climbed steadily since in recent years.

Department of Defense statistics show the upswing -- there were 309 suicides among active-duty and reserve troops from all branches of the military in 2009, compared with 160 in 2001. That's a rate of 18.4 suicides for every 100,000 troops in 2009 compared with a rate 10.3 per 100,000 in 2001.

The Army reported a record-high number of suicides in July 2011 with the deaths of 33 active- and reserve-component service members categorized as suicides, according to the report.

"The military must take care of its own," the report says. "Although a goal of no suicides may be unachievable, the increasing number of suicides is unacceptable."

The Army has the most severe problem although all the services are working to fight the problem.

The report lists a number of recommendations including better accounting of how many suicides actually occur among active-duty and retired military, how service members can be monitored more carefully, especially between once-a-month training sessions for Guard and Reserves, and improved efforts to limit or destroy excess prescription medications that can used in suicides.

The report authors, Dr. Margaret C. Harrell and Nancy Berglass, call on Congress to fund additional mental health care providers.

"There is a national shortage of mental health care and behavioral health care professionals, a factor linked to higher rates of suicide," the report says. "Congress should permanently establish expedited or direct hire authority allowing military hospitals to hire behavioral health care providers."