US military suicides reach new high

Published on WSWS, by James Cogan, 2 December 2009.

… The US Army, the largest branch of the military, suffered the most dramatic increase. By 16 November, 140 soldiers on active duty and 71 National Guard and Reserve personnel had taken their lives this year—a total of 211. By comparison, there were 52 Army suicides in 2001. The number steadily rose over the following years, reaching 197 in 2008.

The overall suicide rate in the US Army has reached 20.2 per 100,000 personnel. The Marine Corp recorded 42 suicides as of October 31—the same number as in all of 2008 and a rate of more than 19 per 100,000 personnel …   

… The suicides among serving personnel are only the tip of the iceberg. Hundreds of former soldiers, veterans of the Afghanistan and Iraq wars who have left the military either voluntarily or involuntarily, are also taking their lives.

The US Department of Veteran Affairs does not kept an official tally. However, a study in 2007 commissioned by CBS News found staggering levels of suicide among Afghanistan and Iraq veterans. Of 6,256 veterans who took their own lives in 2005, for example, the highest rate was among former soldiers aged 20 to 24, which was estimated to be as much as four times higher than the national average.

The veterans’ suicide telephone hotline operating out of a clinic in Canandaigua, New York, has already taken 118,984 calls so far this year and believes it has prevented 3,709 veterans killing themselves.

The psychological problems suffered by many veterans are being compounded by the stresses flowing from the US economic downturn. A study earlier this year found that at least 15 percent of former soldiers aged 20 to 24 were unemployed. Overall unemployment among Afghanistan and Iraq veterans was at least 11.2 percent, compared with 8.8 percent among non-veterans in a comparable age bracket. (full text).

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