Army suicide rates decline for first time in 4 years
By Gregg Zoroya, USA TODAY
Army suicide rates declined for the first time in four years in 2011, the result of a complex effort to identify soldiers engaged in risky or self-destructive behavior, according to the outgoing vice chief of staff, Gen. Peter Chiarelli.
"I think we've at least arrested this problem and hopefully will start to push it down," Chiarelli said Thursday, citing additional numbers showing an increase in hospitalizations for soldiers who talk of suicide. "For all practical purposes … it has leveled off."
But he said there also remain second- and third-order effects from a decade of war and multiple deployments, including a sharp rise in sexual assaults and child and domestic abuse in the Army.
"We see these problems, we see where we've had successes. And we're attacking those areas where we've got problems," Chiarelli said. "After 10 years of war … we had problems that no one could have forecast."
Suicides among active duty soldiers and those in the National Guard and Reserve who are not on active duty fell by 9% last year from from 305 deaths in 2010 to 278 in 2011.
It is the first good news on suicide for the Army since those deaths began a steady increase among active-duty soldiers in 2004.
Still, the suicide rate in the Army, estimated at 24 per 100,000 last year, remains far higher than a similar demographic among civilians, estimated at 19 per 100,000. The rate among soldiers who have served in Iraq and Afghanistan ranges even higher, up to 38 per 100,000, the Army says.
As the increase continued, Chiarelli was appointed in 2009 to look at underlying causes and began a campaign of targeting risky behavior across the service, demanding more accountability from commanders.
He said Thursday that the efforts have been successful.
According to a trend analysis released Thursday, the number of soldiers kicked out of the service for misconduct increased by 57% since 2006, and the Army did away with accepting convicted felons on special waivers.
The result was to bar from enlistment or muster out about 40,000 potential people in that time, according to the report. Overall crime is down. The number of soldiers committing multiple felonies has dropped.
But with alcohol abuse in the Army at record levels, sexual assault and domestic violence have increased.
The percentage of soldiers committing sex crimes has increased 32% since 1006.
The number of domestic abusers in the Army grew by 50% from 4,827 in 2008 to 7,228 last year. During that same, the number of child-abuse offenders is up 62% from 3,172 to 5,149, according to the report released Thursday.
— Years of combat, along with more aggressive efforts to screen for mental illness and brain injury, have had an impact. More than 15,000 concussion cases were identified in the Army in 2010, five times as many as diagnosed in 2000. The nearly 11,000 PTSD cases in 2010 were 15 times higher than in 2003.
— The Army estimates that the total number of servicemembers from all branches of service afflicted with PTSD may be nearing a half million, half of them soldiers.
— More complex wounds have led to longer periods of rehabilitation before soldiers return to duty or leave the Army. Nearly 7,000 have been convalescing for one to two years, and nearly 1,300 for two to three years.