Thursday, January 29, 2009

More on The Military & Suicide

As I've noted previously, the number of suicides has been increasing in the Army over the past six years, and now we get word 2008 has ended up deadlier than year's past.

WASHINGTON (CNN) -- The U.S. Army will report Thursday the highest level of suicides among its soldiers since it began tracking the rate 28 years ago, CNN has learned.

Statistics obtained by CNN show that the Army will report 128 confirmed suicides last year and an additional 15 suspected suicides in cases under investigation among active-duty soldiers and activated National Guard and reserves.

The confirmed rate of suicides was 20.2 per 100,000. Army officials were reviewing the suspected suicides Wednesday. If any of them are confirmed, the rate will rise.

In 2007, the Army reported 115 confirmed suicides, the highest level since 1980, when it began tracking suicides.

Suicides for Marines were also up in 2008. Marines had 41 suicides in 2008, up from 33 in 2007 and 25 in 2006, according to a Marines report.
The article also contains an interview with Kevin Lucey, whose son Jeff Lucey hanged himself in 2004, months after returning from Iraq. You might remember Mr. Lucey from the Frontline documentary "The Soldier's Heart," which I've shown in Intro several times.

I'm not sure how many ways I can re-phrase the sentiment. When you can survive the horrors of war on the battlefields of Iraq or Afghanistan, only to die by your own hand here at home, we're into much more than a "moral crisis." It's a public health epidemic which people simply don't want to talk about, or expect the military itself to handle internally.

And we'll give front page press to murder/suicides (especially those the media like to breathlessly explain, without evidence of course, as being caused by "financial troubles"), but bury in the fine print the price these young men and women are paying for service to this country.

The ultimate price.


Jay Livingston said...

Army suicide rate -- about 20 per 100,000.
US rate for all males 20-35 -- about 20 per 100,000.

Todd Krohn said...

Somewhat apples and oranges. The Army's suicide rate per 100,000 also includes women, who have much lower overall incidences. When adjusted for gender, the Army rate for just male soldiers is no doubt higher than the civilian male rate in the same age demographic.

Jay Livingston said...

From what I could find quickly on the Internet, the army is about 86% male. If we assume that all the suicides were men, that gives a rate of about 23.3 per 100,000 males. The US rate for males 20-35 was about 20.4 in 2004 (the last year I could quickly find data on).

If the army rate has doubled (roughly) since before the war, that raises two questions: why was the army rate so much lower than the civilian rate; and why did it increase. The obvious answer to the second question is Iraq. But do we have data on the experiences (combat, time in Iraq, where in Iraq, etc.) of those who killed themselves?

Todd Krohn said...

Hi Jay,

Those are good questions and don't seem readily available in the reports. In fact, if you have a link to the Armey report, let me know, because I can't find one on the their website.

On the first question, I would go back to Durkheim and suggest the rate would be lower in non-wartime because the military integration and regulation factors are more stable. In wartime, perhaps the stability of the culture breaks down somewhat and so we see such an increase.

On the latter, it's difficult to say what the experiences were of those who killed themselves. I also doubt the Army wants to be that forthcoming with their data. Bad for recruiting, in that sense.

BTW, I'm pleased to find your blog and will be bookmarking shortly.

Jay said...

Do you have any idea how they count reservists? If a reservist is called up, serves in Iraq, then gets rotated back to the US and returns to civilian life, if he commits suicide, is he counted in the army stats? I guess the same question holds for guys who are discharged. That might be an important question when the absolute numbers are rather small.