Military suicides continue to rise, frustrating efforts to give support and prevention

Military suicides continue to rise, frustrating efforts to give support and prevention

Elizabeth Van Winkle, Director of the Office of Force Resiliency, spoke on military suicide to Pentagon reporters on Thursday (DoD file photo)

WASHINGTON — The National Guard’s suicide rate has increased at a higher pace than those in active duty and Reserve components and the Pentagon does not know why, officials said Thursday.

According to a Pentagon study released Thursday, there were about 30.6 deaths by suicide per 100,000 service members in the National Guard compared to22.9 per 100,000 in the Reserve and 24.8 per 100,000 in active-duty ranks.

That was part of the downbeat news of the Pentagon study. The data also shows rates for military suicide have had a statistically significant increase among active-duty forces over the past five years, officials said.

In 2018, there were 541 service members who died by suicide, according to the study. In  2017, there were 186 military family members who died by suicide, the youngest being 12 years old.

The difference in calendar years reflects the most recent data available, officials said.

“There is no one fix,” Karen Orvis, director of the Defense Suicide Prevention Office, said Thursday. “We are disheartened the trends are not going the direction (desired).”

Those who died were primarily enlisted personnel, less than 30 years of age, male, and died by firearm, according to the study. Officials said 90 percent of the firearms used were personal weapons, not military issue.

Of those who died by suicide, 40 percent had not been deployed, officials said Thursday.

In 2018, the rate rose from 18.5 suicides per 100,000 service members in 2017 overall to 24.8 suicides per 100,000, according to the study.

The Navy and Marine Corps set new marks for suicide in 2018 and that may have included Vice Adm. Scott Stearney, commander of 5th Fleet, who was found dead in his Bahrain home. Some media outlets reported there that Stearney had killed himself; the Navy has not concluded its investigation.

“These warning signs can be difficult to detect and…respond to,” Elizabeth Van Winkle, Director of the Office of Force Resiliency, said Thursday.

Military suicides are in the news again now after US Navy acknowledged that the deaths of three sailors on board USS George H.W. Bush last week were all apparent suicides. That brought a total of five crew members who have lost their lives to suicide on the ship over the last two years.

The Army issued a statement in the name of Acting Secretary of the Army Ryan McCarthy and Chief of Staff of the Army Gen. James C. McConville that said the new report is “disheartening and disappointing.

“Suicide is devastating to Families and units, and tears at the fabric of our institution,” the two men said. “Leadership at every level must build cohesive ‘teams of teams’ supporting our brothers and sisters to our left and right. The more we know about each other, the better equipped we are to recognize a call for help.

“We will continue to take a hard look at the challenges we face with suicide to ensure the proper resources are in place to protect those at risk,” they said.

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