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Dramatic Increase In US Army Suicides

Tuesday, February 17th, 2009 Dramatic Increase In US Army Suicides

It has been reported that the rate of suicides amongst US army soldiers has increased to record levels for a second year in a row, according to an article by the BBC (30 01 09).

It has been established that there were specifically 128 confirmed deaths in 2008 and a further 15 deaths under investigation.

Notwithstanding, in another report last year by Maggie Shiels (21 04 08) US war veterans of the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan were suing the government on the basis of inadequate care which was leading to suicide.

Moreover the veterans argue that the department has been unable to deal with the growing incidence of depression and suicides.

Furthermore, in court papers the two non-profit groups representing the veterans write “that failure to provide care is manifesting itself in an epidemic of suicides”.

“The bottom line is that we’re not taking care of the veterans and we need to change that,” says lead lawyer, Gordon Erspamer.

It was deemed that an average of 18 war veterans kill themselves each day - five of them under Department of Veteran Affairs (VA) care - according to a December e-mail between top department officials that has been filed as part of the federal lawsuit.

However, Military argue that the do not know why there has been another increase, but they are keen to state that he stress of conflicts overseas had had a significant impact.

The army has also stated that they are committed to addressing the issue and has introduced training to raise awareness.

“This is a challenge of the highest order for us,” said US Army Secretary Pete Geren.

“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.”

It will now be relevant to observe some of the statistical information. About 35% of the suicides were of soldiers who had never been deployed, while 30% were soldiers who were on active service - three quarters of them on their first tour of duty. This may suggest that these men have not had the mental preparation that is required to sustain themselves.

Another 35% took place after deployment, mostly more than a year after the soldier had returned home.

The rise means that the military suicide rate is proportionally higher than the rate among American civilians for the first time.

Vice chief of the army, General Peter Chiarelli, says “”no doubt” that the stress of the ongoing conflicts in Iraq and Afghanistan was a factor in the rising suicide rates.

In addition he adds that long tours of duty and the high pressure of being in combat zones was putting a strain on service personnel and their families.

The US military said it has introduced training to make soldiers more aware of suicidal behaviour in themselves and others, and to reduce the stigma of seeking help.

It has also launched a long-term research programme into the issue, in conjunction with the National Institute of Mental Health.

Government lawyers say the VA has been making mental health and suicide prevention a top priority.

In court filings, the VA states that for 2008, $3.8b will be spent on mental health.

Also, more than 3,700 new mental health professionals have been hired in the past two-and-a-half years, bringing the total to just under 17,000.

The VA’s lawyers have filed papers arguing that the courts have no jurisdiction to tell the VA how to operate, and no business wading into the everyday management of a network that includes 153 medical centres nationwide

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