Suicide is now the leading cause of death among American military members, dropping war to No. 2 for the first time in more than a decade.
The shocking numbers came from a monthly Pentagon medical statistical analysis journal. Suicide accounted for three in 10 military deaths for the period of 2010 to 2012, which the study covered. That outranks not only war but other traditional causes of death including heart disease, homicide, and transportation accidents.
Over the last 10 years, war had been the traditional leading cause of death, from one-third of deaths in 2005 and 2010 to more than 46 percent in 2007, the height of the Iraq War surge.
Paul Rieckhoff, executive director of the Iraq and Afghanistan Veterans of America, said the stigmas attached to returning military members do not help matters. Rieckhoff said veterans are often split into two groups, “the crying wounded or the guy who jumps the White House fence to get to the President.”
“Don’t treat us like victims. We’re not broken,” Rieckhoff said. “We’ve been through a lot, but we’re rising out of it.”
Military suicides increased dramatically at the start of the Iraq and Afghanistan wars, leading some to hope that the numbers could level off as the wars ended.
That has not been the case, the Washington Post noted.
“And yet the suicide rate within the military is holding steady. The number of active-duty suicides in 2013 dropped by roughly 19 percent compared with 2012, but 2014 has seen them inch back up. This year, the military had lost 161 active-duty troops to suicide as of July, the most recent data available, compared with 154 during the same six-month time period in 2013. The numbers for the citizen-soldiers of the reserves and the National Guard have been even more dire, climbing 8 percent from 2012 to 2013, from 203 to 220. Gen. Ray Odierno, the Army chief of staff, told me in an interview, ‘I don’t think we’ve hit the top yet on suicides.'”
The increase in military suicides is tied heavily to the increase in veterans with post-traumatic stress disorder, experts say. This can fuel depression and alcohol abuse, which are linked closely with suicides. Efforts have been made to increase mental health care and assessment for veterans, but experts say between 11 and 20 percent of Iraq War veterans suffer PTSD at some point.