Army still grappling with soldier suicides

Story highlights

  • The Army has recorded 246 cases of confirmed or potential suicides so far this year
  • That number exceeds the second-highest year for suicides -- 2009 at 242
  • Soldiers are dealing with the emotional and physical toll of 10 years of war
New statistics released by the U.S. Army on Friday show that despite years of studies, programs and high-level attention, suicide continues to plague the American military.
So far in 2011, the Army has recorded 246 cases of confirmed or potential suicides among active duty and reserve soldiers. That number appears to be below the 2010 level of 305 for the full 12 months, but above the second-highest year -- 2009, which had 242 suicides.
The Army reported 17 potential suicides among active duty soldiers last month, 16 of which remain under investigation. Also in October, 12 potential suicides were recorded among reserve soldiers, not on active duty.
The U.S. Marines have recorded 28 confirmed suicides and 163 attempted suicides this year through October. Current numbers were not available for the U.S. Navy, Air Force and National Guard. Those three branches reported suicides among service members in 2010 to be 39, 100 and 112, respectively.
The numbers released Friday illustrate a small segment of the continuing emotional and physical toll of 10 years of war in Afghanistan and Iraq and how it defies a host of efforts by the government to detect and solve the problem of soldier suicide.
Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff Gen. Martin Dempsey talked about the problem Friday before the new statistics were released. He admitted that the military was still grappling with suicides as well as the overall impact of more than a decade of fighting and multiple deployments to the war zones.
Dempsey said one goal was to build resiliency, not just at the beginning, but over the duration of each person's career.
"We've got to take a young man or woman from the day they raise their right hand and join the service, we've got to consciously start building this thing called 'resilience' into them," Dempsey said after a speech to the Military Reporters and Editors Conference in suburban Washington.
Dempsey said that for a large majority of military personnel, deployment made them stronger.
"It is generally, at the 80-percentile, a strengthening influence in their lives," he said. "So the question is why for 80% is it something that makes them stronger and for the other 20% beats them down."
Dempsey said the military is working to confront the problem, but acknowledged it "is still very much a work in progress."
"We've got to acknowledge the limits of human endurance and that gets us to how big does the force need to be to do what it needs to do on a rotational basis," he said. "We've been looking at this, twisting this Rubik's Cube, to try to figure out exactly what needs to be done."