WASHINGTON – Soldier suicides this year could surpass the record rate of last year, Army officials said Thursday, urging military leaders at all levels to redouble prevention efforts for a force strained by two wars.
As of the end of August, there were 62 confirmed suicides among active duty soldiers and Guard and Reserve troops called to active duty, officials said. Another 31 deaths appear to be suicides but are still being investigated.
If all are confirmed, that means that the number for 2008 could eclipse the 115 of last year – and the rate per 100,000 could surpass that of the civilian population, Col. Eddie Stephens, deputy director of human resources policy, said at a Pentagon news conference.
To try to stem the continually growing number of suicides, the Army already has been increasing the number of staff psychiatrists and other mental health staff as well as chaplains and bolstering programs both at home and at the battlefronts. Officials also are about to issue a new interactive video for troops and will be adding a new program on resilience to basic training starting in January, said Brig. Gen. Rhonda L. Cornum, an assistant Army surgeon general.
“There are no simple problems and there are no simple solutions,” Cornum said. “There is no program that has been shown to be truly effective at preventing suicides … Success will be the sum of a number of smaller steps.”