Army: Soldier suicide rate may set record again
By PAULINE JELINEK
WASHINGTON -- Soldier suicides this year could surpass the record rate of last year, Army officials said Thursday, urging military leaders at all levels to redouble prevention efforts for a force strained by two wars.
So far this year, there are 62 confirmed suicides among active duty soldiers and Guard and Reserve troops called to active duty, officials said. Another 31 deaths appear to be suicides but are still being investigated.
If all are confirmed, that means that the number for 2008 could eclipse the 115 of last year - and the rate per 100,000 could surpass that of the civilian population, Col. Eddie Stephens, deputy director of human resources policy, said at a Pentagon press conference.
"Army leaders are fully aware that repeated deployments have led to increased distress and anxiety for both soldiers and their families," Army Secretary Pete Geren said.
"The Army is committed to ensuring that all soldiers and their families receive the behavioral health care they need," he said in a statement distributed at the press conference.
To try to stem the continuing high number of suicides, the Army continues to increase the number of staff psychiatrists and other mental health staff as well as chaplains, is issuing a new interactive video for troops and will be adding a new program to basic training starting in January, said Brig. Gen. Rhonda L. Cornum, an assistant Army surgeon general.
"There are no simple problems and there are no simple solutions," Cornum said. "There is no program that has been shown to be truly effective at preventing suicides ... Success will be the sum of a number of smaller steps."