The withdrawal of US troops from Iraq and Afghanistan means that fewer American soldiers are in harm's way. But new data from the Department of Defense suggests that the drawdown has done little to solve the serious problem of military suicides. The rate of military self-inflicted deaths has stayed roughly the same even as combat deaths have fallen.
Last year alone, 475 active service members took their own lives according to a report published last week by the Department of Defense. In the same year, 127 soldiers lost their lives in the line of duty reported icasualties.org — a website that has been documenting war deaths since the Iraq War in 2003. That's the lowest level since 2008.
The same Department of Defense report said that 120 personnel took their own lives in the first quarter of 2014, a rate of nearly one soldier every day. That compares with 43 soldiers who lost their lives on the front line between January 1 and September 11, 2014.
This has been an issue since the US deployed troops to Iraq and Afghanistan more than a decade ago. But policymakers have been slow to address the problem. Legislation focused on the subject has stalled in the Senate, and a Defense Department initiative to reduce military casualties has achieved little success.
A report by the Institute of Medicine concluded that the Department of Veteran's Affairs and the Department of Defense should have a clear chain of command, a best practices system and a data collection mechanism for the effectiveness of treatments.
Currently diagnosis is still governed by a list of direct questions prescribed by the National Institute for Mental Health — an approach that's known to be ineffective. "Questionnaires are self-reported and when the issue carries a stigma, it's not hard to lie," said Dr. Craig Bryan, a former US Air Force psychologist and adjunct professor at the National Center for Veteran Studies.
This September has been declared suicide prevention month by the VA.