One in five U.S. military deaths last year was as a result of suicide, and the number of troops taking their own lives has increased in each of the last three years, according to a Washington Examiner analysis of Department of Defense data.
The rate appears to be on pace to decrease somewhat for 2013, but last year many more soldiers died at their own hands than were killed by the enemy, with 350 killing themselves and 167 killed in action. It was the second straight year suicides exceeded combat deaths.
With al Qaeda in retreat, it might appear that the enemy is now us. More than twice as many active-duty troops died stateside as died abroad.
|Troop Suicides by city|
|SAN DIEGO, CA||39|
|VIRGINIA BEACH, VA||37|
|COLORADO SPRINGS, CO||36|
|SAN ANTONIO, TX||27|
|FORT HOOD, TX||26|
The domestic carnage has reached the point that the number of suicides at Fort Bragg in Fayetteville, N.C., borders on that of Baghdad. There have been 60 suicides by active-duty U.S. military members in Iraq's capital, compared with 59 in Fayettesville.
When soldiers break, they don't only harm themselves. Maj. Nidal M. Hasan was sentenced to death Aug. 28 for killing 13 people at Fort Hood, Texas, in a 2009 shooting that captured national attention.
But hardly any attention has been paid to the fact that multiple bases have had nearly as many homicides -- 17 homicides each at Norfolk., Va. and Killeen, Texas, to Fort Hood's 18 since 2001.
There have been 15 among active troops in Fayetteville, including that of a 23-year old who was seven months pregnant when her corpse was found in the bathtub of a motel room in 2008, killed by an Army sergeant, one of three female soldiers to be slain in Fayetteville that summer.
Accidents have taken the lives of more than 6,000 troops since 2001, more than 150 percent the number who have died in action. War is a chaotic and inefficient business, leaving a bloody trail across the United States even before the troops deploy to Afghanistan.
|Troop Homicides by city|
|FORT HOOD, TX||18|
|NEWPORT NEWS, VA||11|
|EL PASO, TX||10|
|SAN DIEGO, CA||10|
|SAN ANTONIO, TX||8|
|VIRGINIA BEACH, VA||8|
The deadliest city for active-duty troops is Baghdad, where nearly 1,200 servicemembers have perished. But few might have expected that fully one-fourth as many have died in sunny California's San Diego. That includes 141 accidents, 10 homicides and 39 suicides since 2001.
If the military has more than its share of troubled young men, they likely didn't come in that way.
"Guys get in trouble and the Army makes it look like the soldier's fault and kicks them out when it's the Army that made them this way," retired Special Forces Staff Sgt. Jason Inman told the Colorado Springs Gazette in a series earlier this year on the military's failures to treat post-traumatic stress disorder effectively.
It is not just the trauma of seeing friends mutilated, but physical brain damage that can lead soldiers to forget who they are and lose control of their actions, advocates say.
Military personnel also have easy access to firearms. (Half of all military suicide deaths in 2011 came through non-military-issued firearms, while one in five was by hanging.)
To stem the bloodshed, the military has established a suicide hotline at 1-800-273-TALK, and the Army is promoting a "Ready and Resilient" campaign. It has also distributed 75,000 gun locks and studied “weapons and pharmaceutical reclamation.”
“Seeking help is a sign of strength,” a spokesman said.
There are signs of progress. “The overall suicide rate for 2013 is trending much lower than in 2012,” the spokesman said, at about 200 so far this year.
But there is also a long way to go. So far, the Pentagon has implemented 36 of 76 recommendations by an internal task force mandated by Congress in 2009.
A suicide rate that can be compared with the general population is difficult to calculate because the number of active-duty troops changes regularly, but Pentagon figures placed it at 17.6 per 100,000 in 2010. That’s similar to the rate of civilians of comparable demographics, though the military rate has historically been much lower.
The figures leave aside suicides by veterans who are plagued with difficulties years after their deployments. Suicide victims who were enlisted at the time of death had a median age of 25.
They can be much younger. Two days after Christmas 2012, a Marine Corps field artilleryman took his own life in Layton, Utah. He was only 17.