Active Duty Suicides Explode in July – Family Reintegration Issues in Spotlight

Posted by Jason Van Steenwyk

Note: While we usually feature something lighthearted and entertaining on Fridays, the issue of suicide among servicemembers, and the news of an alarming increase in recent months, is of such importance that we didn’t want to wait until next week to post this story. We hope that we can return to more fun posts next Friday.


military funeralThe Department of Defense announced that the number of service member suicides reached a new record in July, despite an extensive outreach program to educate military service members about how to get help for depression, how to identify other service members at risk of suicide, and training down to the boot level on how to provide buddy aid to help troops at risk.

While investigations are still underway in some deaths, the Department of Defense’s preliminary numbers indicate the number of servicemembers who took their own lives was 38 in July. That’s over 1 and a quarter every day.

Through the end of July 2012, the military reports 116 potential suicides among active duty troops (66 confirmed, with 50 still under investigation.

Among Reserve component troops (Reserve and National Guard), the Pentagon reports 12 potential suicides (9 Guardsmen and three reservists).

If current trends continue, losses from suicide will significantly outstrip last year’s total in both the active and reserve components.

Although the number of suicides among reservists remained roughly constant between June and July, the number of suicides among active duty troops more than doubled during the same time period. The military leadership is still struggling to find a satisfactory explanation.

The suicide rate also seems to have spiked with the end of formal U.S. military involvement in Iraq – and a marked decrease in OPTEMPO for the Army and Marine Corps, which now bear the brunt of the mission in Afghanistan.

While it is dangerous to infer too much from a limited data set, problems in the economy would not explain the increase in active duty suicides even as reserve component suicides remain constant: Despite an unemployment rate among military spouses of over 25 percent, the active component remains much more insulated against the weak economy than the reserve component.

According to reporting by Time, an analyst on the Army’s Suicide Prevention Task Force, Bruce Shahbaz, notes that there has been a recent demographic shift among servicemembers who choose to take their own lives: For the first time, suicides among NCOs are outpacing suicides among junior enlisted. According to Shabahz, the data suggests that the causes of the spike in suicides were more subtle than previously thought: Rather than related directly to the stress of deployments themselves and to economic pressures, suicidal behavior may be more related to difficulties in reintegrating post-deployment. While troops were going back and forth between home station and the GWOT in revolving-door fashion, families were able to mask some of the stresses – the warrior servicemember never fully reintegrated into the household.

From the Time article:

“If you’re on the constant 12-month treadmill of deploy, reset, get ready to redeploy, deploy, soldiers and families don’t work hard to try to reintegrate, because they know that their soldier is going to be gone again,” Shahbaz says. “Issues like minor depression, anxiety and sleep disturbances – those things that are kind of related to post-traumatic stress – begin to surface after a service member has been home for more than a year, and start to reintegrate with their family…I liken it to a pot that’s on simmer – having that person stay back home and reintegrate with their family sometimes allows that pot to boil over.”

Do you need help?

If you or your loved one are at risk of suicide, call National Suicide Prevention Lifeline at 1-800-273-8255. If you are in a military family, press 1.

Mental Health and TRICARE

Good news for those in need: TRICARE covers a wide variety of mental health services for military members and their families. Stay tuned to for a more in-depth look at mental health coverage under TRICARE.

Mental Health for GWOT Veterans and the VA

The Veterans Administration has offered expanded services and access to mental health care for veterans for up to five years after discharge from the military. So if you’re no longer eligible for TRICARE, this program may work for you. Unfortunately, the VA is struggling to keep up with demand for mental health care, leading to waiting lists that are weeks long in some areas. 


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