Suicides Outnumber Battle Deaths in the Armed Services

Approximately every 80 minutes, a US military veteran commits suicide in the United States; for Iraq and Afghanistan, the numbers of veterans lost to suicide now outstrips casualty lists of those killed in action. The suicide rate for active duty personnel isn’t so shockingly high, but it’s still significant; in the first half of 2012, almost one soldier a day took his or her own life. Both veterans and combat personnel have experienced a steep rise in suicide rates since 2005, which notably marked a sharp increase in the intensity of fighting in Iraq and Afghanistan.

This is a public health crisis and an epidemic; veterans alone account for 20% of US suicides. Clearly, the measures the Department of Defense is using to cope with this problem are inadequate, and it’s time to think about how to approach suicide prevention for this particularly vulnerable population. While the DOD is targeting privately-owned weapons, which are a common culprit in military suicides, clearly this is only the beginning of a long and complex approach.

While on duty, soldiers deal with high stress on a constant basis, with limited opportunities for decompression and processing. While counseling services are available and mechanisms are in place to flag soldiers as “high-risk,” such systems come with significant stigma, which can make people reluctant to report suicidal thoughts and other signs and symptoms of severe depression. They can risk losing their clearances, being discharged or being taken away from their units, which can serve to increase feelings of isolation and depression.

Once discharged, veterans can struggle with reintegration into society, something cited again and again by friends and family of suicide victims. They note that support services were inadequate, especially for those waiting on disability claims and other assistance, and that their loved ones had difficulty adjusting to the civilian world. Many are also coping with traumatic brain injuries — the signature injury of Iraq and Afghanistan — and Post Traumatic Stress Disorder, which can complicate their ability to navigate the world even further. Charlie Rangel notes that despite the existence of transition assistance services and mental health programs for veterans, these services are underutilized, and may not meet the needs of servicemembers.

The military excels when it comes to conducting research to find the best evidence-based medicine for soldiers; refinements in battlefield medicine have greatly increased the chances of survival after serious injuries in the field, and many of those developments have trickled into the civilian world as well. Thanks to the military, civilian trauma medicine is highly advanced in the United States. Now, it’s time for the military to turn its attention to suicide prevention with campaigns focused on understanding the root causes among active duty military and veterans, and finding out the best way to address them.


Related Posts:

The Problems Facing America’s Veterans

Army Suicide Numbers Are On the Rise

Suicide In the Family — Military, That Is


Photo credit: U.S. Army


Christine Jones
Christine J.3 years ago

My sympathies go out to all the veterans. We can only imagine the horrors they have faced, and I hope they get the help they need. Everyone can help by refusing to stigmatise mental illness, whether it's depression, anxiety, PTSD or any other kind. It should be treated no differently than having diabetes or a broken leg.

Kellie B.
Kellie B.3 years ago

This is just shocking - Suicides of military personnel in the US is now greater than the war casualty! These wonderful men and women are under an extremely high amount of stress, then add in the stigma that is attached to 'The Black Dog' ...and the fact that if they reveal their dark secret they may lose their honourable clearance - so they find it difficult to reveal the truth.
We all need to joing hands and shout out to everyone "it doesn't make you any less of a person if you are struggling with 'The Black Dog', we are here for you, we are here to listen to you, we are here beside you - to help you thru these dark days and lead you to happy times again ♥"
'Grab A Voice' facebook is here for you.

Teresa Wlosowicz
Teresa W.3 years ago

I'm not surprised.

Sarah Hill
Sarah Hill3 years ago

This is a shameful lack of leadership. We need to give our military our utmost support! Whenever I see someone in a military uniform, I always thank them for their service.

Don H.
Don H.3 years ago

Susan, the link would not work for me, either. : )

I'll try it again.

Susan Allen
SusanAWAY Allen3 years ago

Although, Don H., the link you posted for the Dunning–Kruger effect was good and quite interesting. Thanks. It does somewhat explain a few

Susan Allen
SusanAWAY Allen3 years ago

Don H., the link didn't work for me :(

Don H.
Don H.3 years ago

If another nation is an actual threat to the United States, a threat credible enough to warrant fighting a war over, we should institute a military draft. That way there will be an adequate number of American soldiers to take charge of construction, logistics and food etc. We could rid ourselves of war profiteer "contractors" like Darth Cheney's Halliburton/KBR and mercenaries like Blackwater/Xe.

Eisenhower's warning about the Military Industrial Complex came to fruition clear back in the Vietnam War. These powerful interests have held sway ever since. They are parasites.

Tell your elected representatives that you recognize the military industrial complex as grossly over-bloated. Use your power. But remember, if you speak out, your name will end up on a list of subversives and maybe on a "no-fly" list. The government now considers those that speak out and criticize as potential terrorists.

This is not the nation of our fathers. Now you know how the Indians felt. Well, not quite.

Don H.
Don H.3 years ago

Read the following.

Don H.
Don H.3 years ago

Steven B,

John H is a victim of the Dunning–Kruger effect. It appears to be a common condition among GOPsters and righties in general.