Suicides Drop Among Active Military Members: Pentagon

Elspeth Ritchie
Col. Elspeth Ritchie, a doctor in the Office of the Army Surgeon General, discusses efforts to study and understand suicide among American soldiers in Iraq and Afghanistan on May 29, 2008.J. Scott Applewhite / AP file

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Suicide in the U.S. military fell about 18 percent among active duty members last year, although the number among reservists ticked up slightly.

The Pentagon counted a preliminary 261 suicides in 2013 — down from 319 in 2012 among active members of the Army, Navy, Air Force and Marine Corps, the Department of Defense announced Friday.

In the reserve and National Guard ranks, there were 213 suicides last year, up from 203 the year before, the DOD said.

A full report detailing the demographics and health diagnoses for the suicides won’t be released until later this year. But officials said the latest numbers highlight the military’s push for more outreach and programs available to emotionally troubled troop members.

“With an 18 percent drop in 2013, something is going right,” Army Lt. Gen. Michael Linnington said in a statement. “One suicide is always too many, but we have to focus our efforts now where we think they are most needed.”

He added that military leaders are recognizing the importance of being open about suicide as well as identifying factors, such as stress, that could lead to it.

“When you get to the lower levels, and it’s soldier helping soldier, that’s when you know you’re making progress,” Linnington said.

The Pentagon also released detailed demographic data on the 2012 suicides, showing that more often they involve young, white men using a non-military issued gun. They also frequently had reported family or relationship stress.

The data doesn’t count the number of suicides among veterans. An estimated 22 veterans commit suicide every day, according to the Department of Veterans Affairs.

“Everyone should be outraged about these numbers and all the recent news regarding military and veteran suicide — and moved to action,” Paul Rieckhoff, founder of the Iraq and Afghanistan Veterans of America, said in a statement.

— Erik Ortiz

The Associated Press contributed to this report.