By Barbara Starr
Despite extensive support and counseling programs, as many as 349 U.S. service members committed suicide last year, which would be the highest number since the Department of Defense began keeping detailed statistics in 2001.
According to the Pentagon, 239 military deaths in 2012 have been confirmed as suicides and another 110 are being investigated as probable suicides. The number of suicides in 2011 reached 301; there were 298 the year before.
The statistics on suicides among service members, many of whom had deployed to war zones, included deaths among reserve forces.
Each branch of the service showed an increase. The Army had by far the highest number of suicides and probable suicides - 182, a number that was up from 166 in 2011. The Navy had 60 suicides in 2012 compared with 52 the year before, followed by the Air Force with 59 (up from 51) and the Marine Corps with 48 (up from 32).
By CNN Staff
U.S. Defense Secretary Leon Panetta has ordered the military to begin implementing cost-cutting measures aimed at mitigating the risk of significant budget cuts should Congress fail to reach a deal in coming months to avert or soften them.
"We have no idea what the hell is going to happen," Panetta said Thursday.
He has asked services to begin "prudent" measures, including curtailing maintenance for non-critical activities and delaying hiring.
The measures must be "reversible" and minimize harmful impacts on military readiness, Panetta told reporters at the Pentagon.
Military departments have also been told to report on how they would implement deep automatic spending cuts, called sequester, and enforce unpaid leave for civilian employees should the reductions occur.
Panetta and Joint Chiefs Chairman Gen. Martin Dempsey have warned Congress that uncertainty over the absence of a long-term spending agreement, debt-ceiling concerns and the lack of a full congressional budget process is extremely harmful.
By Chris Lawrence
The Pentagon has delayed plans to notify up to 800,000 civilian workers about possible furloughs now that any big spending cuts under the fiscal cliff have been averted.
The tax deal negotiated by the Senate and the White House and approved by Congress on Tuesday would defer substantial cuts in domestic spending, or sequester, for two months.
The Pentagon faced up to $500 billion in spending reductions under congressional plans for the automatic spending cuts.
In a prepared statement, Defense Secretary Leon Panetta said the deal buys time for lawmakers to come up with a deficit reduction plan that prevents devastating and arbitrary cuts. "Had Congress not acted, the Department of Defense - along with other federal agencies –would have been forced to begin taking dramatic steps that would have severely impacted our civilian personnel and disrupted our mission," Panetta said Wednesday.
While they caught a break this time, defense officials say compressing the timetable could present another challenge if those cuts eventually become law.
By Larry Shaughnessy
Defense Secretary Leon Panetta sent a memo this week to all the troops and civilians who work for him to address concerns about the mandatory spending cuts that would occur if the president and lawmakers do not reach a budget agreement by the end of the year.
In it, Panetta wrote that if the procedure, known as sequestration, were to occur, it "would not necessarily require immediate reductions in spending."
He also wrote that "under sequestration, we would still have funds available after Jan. 2, 2013, but our overall funding for the remainder of the year would be reduced."
It's a very different spin on the sequestration from Panetta, who in the past said it would be a "disaster." If this "meat ax" approach to budget cutting were used, he said, it would "hollow out the force."
The cuts are slated to be across the board, totaling roughly $500 billion over 10 years.
Panetta tried to reassure the troops that "the president indicated his intent to exercise his legal authority to exempt military personnel" from the mandatory cuts.
But he couldn't make the same promise to the Defense Department's million or so civilian employees.
Instead he said, "Should we have to operate under reduced funding levels for an extended period of time, we may have to consider furloughs or other actions in the future."
Asked about the change of tone, a senior defense official said, "The secretary continues to believe that sequestration would be devastating and is puzzled that Congress can't reach a deal."
The same official said the memo reflects the Office of Management and Budget's view of the issue, especially with respect to furloughs.
Panetta wrapped up the memo by writing, "I want to assure you that we will do our very best to provide clear information about the status of events as they unfold."
By Mike Mount
The White House has ordered the military to start planning for the possibility of cutting $500 billion from its budget over the next 10 years as part of the fiscal cliff, Pentagon officials said on Wednesday.
Agency spokesman George Little told reporters that the Office of Management and Budget (OMB) instructed the Defense Department to start internal planning for possible spending reductions on top of other cuts already in the pipeline.
The military had been ordered for months not to get ready for the automatic budget cuts - also known as sequestration - related to the fiscal cliff that would hit January 2.
"Naturally, we hope very much that sequestration will be avoided and that we don't enter that phase in early January 2013. We don't want to go off the fiscal cliff, but in consultation with OMB, we think that it is prudent at this stage to begin at least some limited internal planning," Little said.
The fiscal cliff is a combination of tax increases and spending cuts that are due to take effect if the White House and Congress cannot agree on a framework for tackling deficit-reduction by year's end.
By Jennifer Rizzo
Defense company executives conceded on Monday that their industry would likely see billions more in cuts even if Congress reaches a deal to avoid the fiscal cliff.
"We need to stop believing or pretending that there is a scenario out there that offers no defense cuts," said David Langstaff, president and chief executive of TASC, Inc. "The question is whether we make them responsibly or irresponsibly."
The automatic cuts, referred to as sequestration, are set to go into effect on January 2 if the White House and Congress cannot agree on where $1 trillion in federal savings over the next decade should come from.
The Pentagon's budget would be axed by $500 billion over that time. That would be on top of a similar cut the Pentagon is already committed to achieving.
Langstaff discussed the threat of the looming budget cuts at the National Press Club along with three other defense industry executives: Wes Bush, CEO of Northrop Grumman; David Hess, president of Pratt & Whitney; and Dawne Hickton, CEO of RTI Metals.
By Pam Benson
Spending by the intelligence community dropped for the second year in a row following the dramatic increases in the years after the 2001 terrorist attacks and it's a trend that will continue.
Director of National Intelligence James Clapper released a statement on Tuesday revealing the budget for national intelligence programs in fiscal year 2012 was $53.9 billion, a 1 percent decrease from the previous year.
And according to the Defense Department, the amount spent for military intelligence dropped by 10 percent to $21.5 billion.
The overall spending of $75.4 billion in 2012 represents a 4% cut in intelligence spending.
The fiscal year ended on September 30.
Overall intelligence spending peaked in fiscal year 2010 when the United States spent a total of $80.1 billion.
By Larry Shaughnessy
A new report shows a trend of increased defense spending among Asia's major military powers, with China's military budget accounting for nearly half of all spending in the region. It's a trend that reflects one reason why the Pentagon is heavily focused on increasing its presence in the region.
According to official reports from China, defense spending there has increased to $90 billion in 2011 from $22.5 billion in 2000. It should be noted that skeptics believe China's official numbers are purposely low. For example, the Stockholm International Peace Research Institute estimated that China's 2011 defense budget was much closer to $142 billion.
By Pam Benson
Looming across-the-board cuts to the intelligence community budget will be devastating if Congress fails to act according to the nation's top intelligence officer.
"If sequestration is allowed to happen, it will be disastrous for intelligence," Director of National Intelligence James Clapper told a group of intelligence officers and contractors gathered at a conference in Orland on Tuesday.
Clapper said every major intelligence program is "in jeopardy of being wounded" because the budget deal Congress passed last year does not allow the intelligence community any flexibility to prioritize needs.
"The current arrangement pre supposes that everything we do in intelligence is of equal import and we all know that's not the case,' Clapper said.
The cuts would be approximately 10% and would impact programs as well as personnel.
Republican presidential nominee Mitt Romney delivered highly publicized remarks on foreign policy Monday afternoon, two weeks before facing President Barack Obama in a security focused debate. The former governor took every opportunity in his 20-minute speech at the Virginia Military Institute to point out the perceived failures of the Obama administration. CNN conducted fact checks on several of Romney’s assertions to gauge their validity.
Throughout his campaign, Romney has cast himself as an ardent backer of Israel - and, either directly or indirectly, suggested that President Barack Obama hasn't been similarly supportive. Monday was no exception as Romney stated that the relationship between Obama and Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu "has suffered great strains" in recent years.