- The Washington Times - Friday, May 30, 2008

The number of Army suicides increased again last year amid the most violent year yet in both the Iraq and Afghanistan wars.

An Army official said yesterday that 115 troops committed suicide in 2007, a nearly 13 percent increase over the previous year’s 102. The official spoke on the condition of anonymity because a full report on the deaths had not yet been released.

About a quarter of the deaths occurred in Iraq.

The 115 confirmed deaths among active-duty soldiers and National Guard and Reserve troops that had been activated was a lower number than previously feared. Preliminary figures released in January showed that as many as 121 troops might have killed themselves, but a number of the deaths were still being investigated and have since been attributed to other causes, the officials said.

Suicides have increased during the five-year-old war in Iraq and nearly seven years of war in Afghanistan.

The 115 deaths last year and 102 in 2006 followed 85 in 2005 and 67 in 2004. The only Army records immediately available go back to 1990, and show no year with a higher number of suicides than last year. The figure in 1990 was 102.

More U.S. troops also died overall in hostilities last year than in any of the previous years in Iraq and Afghanistan. Overall violence increased in Afghanistan with a Taliban resurgence and overall deaths increased in Iraq, even as violence there declined in the second half of the year.

Increasing the strain on the force last year was the extension of deployments to 15 months from 12 months, a practice ending this year.

The increases in suicides come despite a host of efforts to improve the mental health of a force stressed by the long and repeated tours of duty.

The efforts include more training and education programs such as suicide-prevention programs and a course last year that taught all troops how to recognize mental health problems in themselves and their buddies. Officials also approved the hiring of more than 300 additional psychiatrists, psychologists and other mental health professionals and have so far hired 180 of them. They also have added more screening to measure the mental health of troops.

The suicide numbers kept by the Army only show part of the picture because they don’t include Guard and Reserve troops who have finished their active duty and returned home to their civilian jobs.

The Department of Veterans Affairs tracks the number of suicides among those who have left the military. It says there have been 144 suicides among the nearly 500,000 service members who left the military between 2002 and 2005 after fighting in at least one of the wars.

The true incidence of suicide among veterans is not known, according to a recent Congressional Research Service report. Based on numbers from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, the VA estimates that 18 veterans a day - or 6,500 a year - take their own lives, but that number includes vets from all wars.

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