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Suicide rate among US active-duty troops falls, reservists buck positive trend

Published time: February 03, 2014 10:20
Reuters/Erik De Castro

Reuters/Erik De Castro

The US’s army has seen an almost 20 percent slump in the suicide rate in 2013, believed to be linked to the country’s lesser involvement in wars. However, suicides among those in the National Guard and reserves have still been rising.

A total of 150 confirmed and suspected suicides among active-duty soldiers last year is down from the record-breaking 185 in 2012, when the number of suicides surpassed the number of troops killed in Afghanistan. The 2013 statistics have been provided by the USA Today, citing as-yet-unpublished internal Army data.

The drop is dramatic, considering the suicide rate in the US army had been steeply rising since 2004, with Defense Secretary Leon Panetta having described the trend as “an epidemic.”

"I'm not declaring any kind of victory here," Lt. Gen. Howard Bromberg, chief of Army personnel commented on the fresh figures. "It's looking more promising."

The US Army has been investing about $50 million a year since 2009 in providing psychological help to soldiers, including those suffering from post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD).

Researchers still mostly link the reversal of the negative trend to US’s curbing its military activity in war zones. The US withdrew its military forces from Iraq in 2011 and has since been in the process of withdrawing from Afghanistan, having vowed to have all of its soldiers out of there by the end of 2014.

In 2012, the worst on record for suicides in the US army, four of five soldiers to take their own lives were whose who had been deployed at least once to Iraq or Afghanistan.

The slump in suicides among soldiers on active duty is however accompanied by an 8 percent rise of the rate among members of the National Guard or reserve. There were 140 suicides in the group in 2012 compared to 151 last year.

Many reservists were also deployed to Iraq and Afghanistan. Dr. Barbara van Dahlen, a psychologist and founder of Give an Hour, a non-profit organization that provides counseling to soldiers, believes they lack the Army’s help and support.

Who is keeping track of those in the Guard?” she said as cited by The Los Angeles Times. “It’s a much more dispersed community, and [the Army] doesn’t have the resources to reach all those folks who might be struggling.”

We are not at the point yet where a Guard member can easily get help,” she added.

Van Dahlen explains, reservists and Guard members are only entitled to counseling and treatment through military programs if they are suffering from trauma they received while on active duty. But those who are eligible often live in rural areas, where assistance is inaccessible.

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