Military suicide rate among U.S. troops outnumbers combat deaths

New numbers show U.S. troops committed suicide at a record rate last year, and some experts worry the problem will continue to get worse despite an increased focus on the issue.

By Josh Kerns, MyNorthwest (KIRO Radio Seattle)

The suicide rate among U.S. troops continues to climb, despite a sharp drop in combat activity. Some experts fear the problem will grow even worse this year.

New Pentagon numbers obtained by the Associated Press show military members committed suicide at a rate of almost one per day in 2012, 349 last year among active-duty troops. That’s up from 301 the year before and exceeds the Pentagon’s own internal projection of 325.

The Pentagon has made it a priority but is admittedly struggling with what Defense Secretary Leon Panetta and others call an epidemic.

“They’re really trying to put their fingers on what exactly it could be,” said retired Army Maj. and CBS military analyst Mike Lyons in an interview Tuesday with Seattle’s Morning News. “There’s really no silver answer, no silver bullet so to speak.”

Last year’s total is the highest since the Pentagon began closely tracking suicides in 2001. It exceeds the 295 Americans who died in Afghanistan last year, by the AP’s count. According to Lyons, many troops are dealing with both the long term effects of a decade of combat in Afghanistan and Iraq coupled with the increasing fear and stress of getting forced out or isolated if they admit they’re struggling.

“Army psychologists have identified a fear of being left behind. If a soldier now admits the fact having some kind of suicidal thoughts and he ended up not getting deployed or doesn’t get promoted or doesn’t get retained, that causes extra stress.”

Although some military members might be worried about disclosing how they’re really feeling, other advocates say the military hasn’t done enough to help those that ask for help.

One such case was Army Spc. Christopher Nguyen, 29, who killed himself in August at an off-post residence he shared with another member of the 82nd Airborne Division at Fort Bragg, N.C., according to his sister, Shawna Nguyen.

“He was practically begging for help, and nothing was done,” she said in an interview.

Read the complete article at MyNorthwest.com HERE.

Originally published/aired January 15, 2013.

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