Just when you’re thinking the Army may have turned the corner on its troops’ killing themselves, a new number has surfaced that dashes those hopes. On Friday, the Army said it suffered a record 32 suspected suicides in July, the most since it began releasing monthly data two years ago.
The Army is waging war on suicide just as seriously as it has been fighting for nearly a decade in Afghanistan and Iraq. Commanders are immensely frustrated by their inability to drive down the rate, which is demoralizing and depressing to the troops, their families and the nation. President Obama has even gotten involved, deciding last month that he would send condolence letters to the families of those service personnel who killed themselves in combat zones.
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Last month’s total — averaging more than one suicide a day — included 22 active-duty troops and 10 reservists. It eclipsed the prior record of 31 that was set in June 2010. “While the high number of potential suicides in July is discouraging,” said General Peter Chiarelli, vice chief of staff of the Army, “we are confident our efforts aimed at increasing individuals’ resiliency, while reducing incidence of at-risk and high-risk behavior across the force, are having a positive impact.”
Chiarelli, the service’s top suicide fighter, recently discussed the challenge over breakfast with reporters. “The hardest part about this is breaking down the stigma. I’m not going to kid myself. As hard as I try, and I brief every brigade combat team going out, both in the National Guard and in the active component. I brief the leadership in an hour-long VTC [video-teleconference], and I explain to them what is traumatic brain injury, what is posttraumatic stress,” he said of the key contributors to suicide. “As hard as I try and as much as sometimes from about 20% of the audience I get the drinking duck, and I see the head going up and down, but I know it’s exactly that. It’s the drinking duck. In their mind, they really don’t believe these injuries are as serious as the injuries that they can see.”
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