Army Suicide Numbers are On the Rise

The announcement from the Army was a shock – 38 soldiers committed suicide in July of this year.  This broke last July’s record of 33.

Again, my community is stunned.  As a friend who is still downrange in Afghanistan said, the team members read the Army Times report on suicide numbers aloud and were stunned into silence. The online community is asking how, and why.  Units are holding suicide stand downs and next month is Suicide Prevention month.

The questions, the recriminations are flying. There have been conferences for years, talking about resiliency, claiming that steps are being taken to educate our service members, showing them another way out of their despair.  A huge effort has been made to overturn the stigma that is prevalent, the appearance of “weakness” – senior flag and enlisted service members made PSAs, stood up at conferences and talked about their going to mental health services for help.  What good has all this done?

The numbers don’t lie.  That piece of “wisdom” has been thrown out as a final answer to that question; that it hasn’t done any good whatsoever.  That the bad old days of refusing to acknowledge that service members were committing suicide; that the habit of throwing those who try to commit suicide out of the military as being unfit for duty produced the same results.

Some shrug their shoulders and say that this is the cost of doing business – that war and deployments back to back are going to break those who can’t stand the strain.  Some bemoan the state of military medicine, the propensity for handing out pills by the bucketful with little or no counseling available.  Some long for the old days, when the spectre of military suicide was hidden away and kept secret from the outside world, deaths were never counted and the surviving families crept away quietly.

This new world demands more.  These wars, the ones that we have seen on our TV screens have made the wounded more visible as well.  Both those with visible wounds and those with the invisible wounds that are driving more and more of my community to take this way out are on TV, in newspapers and online articles. Every day, another casualty notice comes across my email, is noted on social media.

President Obama announced today, at Fort Bliss, a new executive order, Improving Access to Mental Health Services for Veterans, Service Members and Military Families. According to the White House, this will direct “key federal departments to expand suicide prevention strategies and take steps to meet the current and future demand for mental health and substance abuse treatment services for veterans, service members, and their families.”

The lack of counselors, the difficulties in finding someone to talk to, the stigma still attached to a soldier or veteran or family member asking for help, is an enormous problem in the military community.   Will this Executive Order make a difference?  I hope so.  Will we get more access to counselors, as is called for, especially in areas where the VA is having trouble finding such support? It is crucial that this happens.

Will our family members, especially those in remote locations not near a base or a VA hospital, find the support and counseling they need?  If they don’t, our numbers will continue to climb, in silence; the silence that has come from the lack of reporting, the silence that comes from the ongoing stigma, the silence that we are trying to break.


Related Stories:

Seeing For Ourselves: Alternative Care for Servicemen and Women

Please Don’t Say Happy Memorial Day

Losing The Battle: The Challenge Of Military Suicide



Kathy Perez
Kathy Johnson6 years ago

it's heartbreaking but not shocking. taking a human life isn't supposed to be easy

Laura L.
Laura L6 years ago

As an "Army brat," Reservist, and Army wife, I am saddened every time I read about suicides in the military (and the problem isn't just with service members but also with their families). I feel that there are so many things that the military could do but I see little occurring beyond symbolic gestures and meaningless talk.

Recruits should be better screened for mental health problems.

The military should work toward removing the stigma around seeking help for PTSD and other service related mental health problems.

There should be no hoops to jump through in order to receive help.

Pre and post-deployment evaluations need to be more thorough - especially for health care providers (docs, PAs, medics, mental health providers, etc.) who already know what answers are "flags" and will answer to pass rather than answer truthfully.

Spouses and family members need to be made more aware of the resources available to them.

The list could go on and on... Talking about it alone will not fix the problem. Holding a "suicide prevention" class after a soldier on post has killed him/herself (without even giving the soldier's comrades and friends time to mourn or even register the reality of his/her death) does not help.

Teresa Wlosowicz
Teresa W6 years ago

very sad

Mary B.
Mary B6 years ago

Elaine are an extremely hateful person......Your President didn't start the wars and it seems is trying to get help for the returning and serving soldiers......what are you doing to help?.....Just play the blame game even if it is misdirected.......quit bitching and get out and volunteer to help.......might just take your mind off the "Woe is me attitude"

nancy D.
nancy B6 years ago

ElameA - This too falls under the current administration? I don't think you realize that the administration that sent these soldiers into an illegal war left office almost four years ago. Dubya is not in office. Obama - the president who ended the Iraq war and was the one to give the order to kill BinLaden is in office. You seem to be confused. Are you sure you didn't have a stroke?

Sammadhi Sativa
Sammadhi Sativa6 years ago

One problem is the lack of adequately screening new recruits prior to enlistment. We have a volunteer military in the US, no draft--yet. But the govt. still has to have a body count of new recruits to replace the ones who are discharged every day and many people who should not be a member in the military slip into the ranks anyway. Many people join for many reasons, to help protect America, or they want to be a hero, or they lack skills and want job training for when they leave the military they can find work. Many skate through their enlistments while going to college or technical training school--I don't mean that in a bad sense when I say 'skate', but that they do not have to go to war. Many others find themselves going to war, which wasn't what they had in mind when they enlisted but the ability to go to college and then brag about their service for their country--good for them, it's in their contract, they were a veteran and that is something to be proud of. I am a veteran and proud of my service. Those who go to combat and are not prepared for the daily war, mentally, will find it hard to suppress painful memories of lost comrades and even the memories of those they killed in the line of duty. Survivors guilt leads many to commit suicide. There is no secure way to know who can handle life in combat during or after the war. Life affects us all in different ways and not everyone can live with the consequences of their choice to enlist in the military. Servicemen and women

Charli S.
Charlotte S6 years ago

I too have PTSD and have been pushing for Marijuana therapy as it works well on PTSD as does counseling. But of course the war on drugs (which we've already lost) is more important then any veterans or soldiers. Sorry for the negative nature of this post but I'm tired of fighting for something I shouldn't have to fight for.

Maria D'Oporto
Past Member 6 years ago

I share my life for some years with a veteran with PTSD and I can tell is very hard to live the daily life with someone with this illnes, he was doing pretty well because we love him and he had all the support he needs but he still fighting medical issues for the exposure to chemicals and always will be disable for that, he has orientation problems and has the need of a GPS system all the time, to give him the backup when he lost the orientation, fortunatly he has all the support he needs but is very sad in some families this can´t be done because it is expensive and because all family members are working out, so nobody home to give a support net to them, plus regular people is not trained to help them in the everyday life; they surely deserve a better life, they fogth for their country so they deserve to know they are safe at home.

Veronique L.
Veronique L6 years ago

Very distressing, but I'm not surprised to read that....

Charli S.
Charlotte S6 years ago

As a veteran I see this all the time. But if we aren't offing ourselves the military is doing it for us. Thousands of soldiers have been exposed to toxic chemicals and have NEVER been notified of the exposure. I am one of those soldiers. I was exposed during basic at Ft. McClellan Al to chemicals from Monsanto. Yet I can not get any help from the VA or from our legislators. We've had a bill to create a registry but it's stalled in committee. I wonder if it's because a majority of these vets are women (Ft. McClellan is the Home of the WAC as well as other units). The bill is HR2052 and we've been trying to get enough signatures to push the congress to do something. Please go there and sign. Here's the link:

Here's an interesting article on what PCB's do to humans exposed
Here's one that says Monsanto knew that this was dangerous.