With U.S. military suicides at an all-time high, the Army launched an
investigation into the rise of suicides in the force, which at
a rate of 20 per 100,000 people is 5 percent higher than the U.S.
civilian rate of 19 per 100,000 people. Here is the Army's report
and the thoughts of journalists, experts, and one military spouse on this troubling issue.
- What Inspired the Report The Army details in a press release,
"The report grew out of a series of visits to six Army installations
directed by Casey and led by Vice Chief of Staff Gen. Peter Chiarelli in
Spring 2009 to look at suicide prevention efforts in the force. 'What
we witnessed were real indicators of stress on the force, and an
increasing propensity for Soldiers to engage in high risk behavior,'
Chiarelli said. 'We recognized almost immediately we had to widen the
aperture – risk in the force cannot be mitigated by suicide prevention
- Suicides Greater Risk Than Combat The New York Times' Elisabeth Bumiller reports,
"The report said that if the Army added in accidental deaths, which it
said are often the result of high-risk behavior involving drinking and
drugs, 'less young men and women die in combat than die by their own
actions.' It concluded: 'We are often more dangerous to ourselves than
- Commanders Must Pay Better Attention Foreign Policy's Tom Ricks summarizes,
"Army commanders need to pay better attention to soldiers to prevent
suicide. ... First-termers are especially at risk." Ricks adds, "I
admire the way Gen. Chiarelli has stuck with this issue. It can't be
- In War-Time, Recruitment Changes Veteran and blogger James Joyner describes
"the new strain of risk-seeking recruits who join during wartime and
commanders who neglect to rein them in." He explains, "During long
periods of peace, men join the Army for secure employment, college
benefits, travel, patriotism, and the like. But we’ve been at war for as
long as new recruits can remember. That means people joining either
want to fight or are so desperate for work that they’re willing to risk
death. These are very different types of people."
- Necessity-Driven Drop in Standards The New York Times' Elisabeth Bumiller reports,
"The report said that the pace of constant deployments in two wars had
forced a lowering of recruiting and retention standards. Many new
recruits were granted waivers, it said, for behavior that would have
kept them out of the service in earlier years. Of 80,403 waivers granted
since 2004, the report found that 47,478 were granted to people with a
history of drug or alcohol abuse, misdemeanor crime or 'serious
misconduct,' which it defined as felony. At the same time, the report
found that there was a decrease in soldiers forced to leave the Army for
misconduct. 'This has likely resulted in the retention of over 25,283
soldiers who would have otherwise been separated in previous years,' the
Army Must Change Broader Culture The Atlantic's Kayt Sukel,
a military wife who lost an Army family member to suicide, writes, "Few
if any are questioning Chiarelli's or Philbrick's seriousness in
leading this campaign. The open question is whether they, and it, will
have the leverage to start changing the Army's broader mindset."
- How Physical Care Can Improve Mental Health Drew Conway explains on Twitter, "I had a very sobering conversation with one of the research MD's at Walter Reed about suicide last time I was in DC. He said often it has to do with multiple trips back into the hospital after initial surgery/care. Which creates added separation from family friends, leads to depression, etc. Very tragic. Part of the [conversation] was about using big data on infection to create better care at the initial surgery, prevent multiple [visits]."
Want to add to this story? Let us know in comments
or send an email to the author at
mfisher at theatlantic dot com.
You can share ideas for stories on the Open Wire.