An Army report on the record number of soldier suicides says the trend
reflects a rise in risky behavior including drunken driving and drug
abuse in a military stretched to the breaking point by the wars in
Afghanistan and Iraq. The report says the Army is failing its soldiers
by missing signs of trouble or by looking the other way as commanders
try to keep to tight schedules required to meet deployment schedules.
The Army vice chief of staff, Gen. Peter Chiarelli, said Thursday that
statistics on levels of drug and alcohol abuse suggests that soldiers
are taking more risks while discipline has slipped. The Army counted 160
suicides last year, the highest total ever. The rate was above that of
the civilian population for the second year in a row. The study counted
an additional 146 deaths in 2009 that it says were due to drug overdoses
or other causes the Army lumps together as risky behavior. There were
also 1,713 known suicide attempts last year. The ramped-up tempo of Army
life, with faster deployments and too little time at home, underlies the
problem but is not its sole cause, Chiarelli said.
Most suicides occur early in a soldier’s Army career, and some come
before a soldier has deployed. The report raises the possibility that
part of the increase in risky behavior comes from an increase in young
soldiers attracted to the wartime force precisely because it is dangerous.
“Looking across the Army, the (report) team found that there appeared to
be an overall increase in high-risk behavior,” including drug and
alcohol use/abuse.”Leader accountability had atrophied,” the report
said. “There were too many gaps and seams in programs and processes that
allowed high-risk behavior to continue undetected and seemingly
unchecked.” Among dozens of recommendations are increases in drug and
mental health staffs and ways to encourage soldiers to seek help.