January 30, 2009:
Suicides in the U.S. Army were up last year, to 128. The year before they were 115. The stress of repeated trips to combat zones like Iraq and Afghanistan is largely responsible, as over 70 percent of the suicide victims had done at least one tour in a combat zone. The active duty strength of the army is half a million troops.
The suicide rate in 2008 was 20 per 100,000 troops . In 2007 it was 19. The rate in 2006 was 12.8, and for the last decade, had fluctuated between 10-13 per 100,000. The suicide rate for troops in Iraq has been about 40-50 percent higher than for soldiers stationed elsewhere. The suicide rate for the entire U.S. population is about 11 per 100,000.
The suicide rate in the military is known to be linked to stress. Back in 2006, the U.S. Navy was concerned when of suicide rate among submarine crewmen went to 35 per 100,000. At the time, the rest of the U.S. military Army had a rate about a third of that (about ten per 100,000 uniformed personnel). In 2004, the suicide rate for submariners was 20 per 100,000. It's always understood that the suicide rate among the 20,000 submarine sailors will be higher, simply because it's more stressful work.
The suicide rate in the U.S. Army took a dive in 2004, going from 18 per 100,000 troops in 2003, to 7.9 per 100,000 in 2004. The army attributes the drop to better screening for suicidal tendencies, and widespread attention to the problem after the media ran many stories on the "suicide problem." Typically, suicides account for 5-10 percent of army personnel deaths each year. Most deaths are the result of accidents, both on duty, and off duty (usually while driving). Over the last 25 years, the army has always lost one or two thousand dead each year to accidents, disease and suicide (in that order). That meant about two troops per thousand died each year. In Iraq, the risk of getting killed in combat was, between 2005-7, 2-3 percent for a one year tour. Now it's less than one percent. For the army overall, the risk of death from combat is less than one percent. Suicides have always been higher in combat zones, yet another risk in a very dangerous job.
But non-combat stress can create an even higher suicide rate. The Russian military has a rate of 33 suicides per 100,000 troops (that's over 300 suicides). This is declining, but not fast enough. Russia is not at war, except for a small force in Chechnya, where they face remnants of separatist and Islamic terrorist groups. The Russian problem is institutionalized brutality towards junior troops. This has been a problem since the end of World War II, and the government has been trying to fix it for over a decade now.