By Larry Shaughnessy
The U.S. Army reported 32 suicides and potential suicides in the month of July, the highest total since the service began publicly releasing such statistics 2 ½ years ago. And the problem is even worse than the Pentagon's news releases would indicate.
Each month the Army sends out a press report saying how many soldiers have committed suicide.
According to those news releases, as of July 31 of this year 151 soldiers had apparently taken their own lives.
But a document obtained by CNN shows that the Army has actually counted 163 suicides this year.
The Army counts them in terms of confirmed suicides and "potential" suicides, which are deaths that are suspected of being suicide but the official investigation has not been completed. Most of the time, potential suicides are confirmed as actual suicides.
As for why 12 of the suicides were not included in the news releases, Lt. Col. Laurel Devine explained that sometimes, long after the news releases go out, investigators realize a soldier's death is at least a "potential" suicide.
The problem may also come from the fact that of the four branches of service, the Army is the most transparent about the issue of suicide.
The Army is the only branch that sends out a monthly news release, while the other services will release the suicide information only when asked.
"Every suicide represents a tragic loss to our Army and the Nation. While the high number of potential suicides in July is discouraging, we are confident our efforts aimed at increasing individuals' resiliency, while reducing incidence of at-risk and high-risk behavior across the Force, are having a positive impact," Gen. Peter Chiarelli, the Army vice chief of staff and its point man on the issue of suicide, said in a statement. "We absolutely recognize there is much work to be done and remain committed to ensuring our people are cared for and have ready access to the best possible programs and services."
Chiarelli spends much of his time dealing with the suicide issue and looking for answers, in part because the problem appears to be much worse for the Army than the other branches.
So far in 2011, the Air Force has had 28 suicides, the Marines 21 and the Navy 33. Even though those three services have a combined total force equal to the Army's, their number of suicides are about half the Army's 163.
No one knows why it's worse among the Army other than the fact that it's the biggest branch of service.
"Any act of suicide is a tragedy," said Bryan Whitman, a spokesman for the Pentagon. "It's often very difficult to have any sort of causal relationship to these trends. Each one of them is an individual set of circumstances that range from broken relationship to stress from deployments."