By Jamie Crawford
Soldiers killed themselves at a higher monthly rate in July than any other since detailed statistics have been kept on the issue, the U.S. Army said Thursday.
A total of 38 confirmed or suspected suicides were counted by the Army last month in a tally that took into account both active and non-active duty soldiers who serve in the Army National Guard or Reserve. Three of those active duty soldiers were deployed at the time of their death.
Prior to the announcement, the highest monthly level suicide rate for soldiers was 33 in the months of June 2010 and July 2011 according to statistics released by the Army.
"Suicide is the toughest enemy I have faced in my 37 years in the Army. And it's an enemy that's killing not just Soldiers, but tens of thousands of Americans every year," Gen. Lloyd J. Austin III, Vice Chief of Staff of the Army said in a written statement. "That said, I do believe suicide is preventable. To combat it effectively will require sophisticated solutions aimed at helping individuals to build resiliency and strengthen their life coping skills."
To date, the Army has confirmed 120 suicides for both active and non-active duty soldiers in 2012 with 67 other deaths suspected as suicides, but still under investigation. Twenty-five of those were attributed to soldiers who did not have any previous deployments. The Army reported 242 suicides in 2009, 305 in 2010 and 283 in 2011.
Secretary of Defense Leon Panetta told a Congressional committee last month that the U.S. military was facing an "epidemic" of suicides, and was in need of improvements in mental health services for active duty and returning troops.
In his statement, Austin noted that with Suicide Prevention Month in September, the Army must also continue to address the stigma associated with mental health issues in the service. "Ultimately, we want the mindset across our Force and society at large to be that behavioral health is a routine part of what we do and who we are as we strive to maintain our own physical and mental wellness," he said.
The White House lifted a ban last year on the sending of condolence letters from the president to the families of service members who commit suicide. It reversed a policy in place by previous administrations that had come under intense criticism as the country entered into its 10th year of war.
"This issue is emotional, painful, and complicated," President Barack Obama said last July when the policy was changed. "But these Americans served our nation bravely. ... We need to do everything in our power to honor their service, and to help them stay strong for themselves, for their families and for our nation."