What Army Suicides Have in Common

November 18 2009, 10:49 AM

As the wars in Afghanistan and Iraq rage on, suicides among U.S. Army soldiers have set a record for a fifth straight year. The Army says it suspects 140 active duty soldiers had ended their lives in 2009 as of the count they had taken on Monday. That's the same number confirmed last year and up from 102 in 2006, according to The Associated Press. The Army has struggled to slow the trend, even with new suicide-prevention efforts. The Comprehensive Soldier Fitness program, which emphasizes mental and emotional health as much as physical strength, was added in October. Army Vice Chief of Staff General Peter W. Chiarelli said during a press conference at the Pentagon yesterday, "This is horrible. Every single loss is devastating" (via The Washington Post). Yet, Chiarelli also says the Army remains befuddled by the problem and has yet to identify any causal links among the cases: "Each suicide case is as unique as the individuals themselves." However, a special investigation that I worked on with Salon earlier this year identified some common threads, including the habitual mistreatment of soldiers suffering from combat stress by commanders---even medical workers. The Salon series also identified suicides that could have been prevented if Army officials had paid better attention to the plight of soldiers with hidden wounds, such as post-traumatic stress disorder and traumatic brain injuries. Suicide isn't the only risk for returning soldiers. Rolling Stone recently detailed the violence and homicides committed by a group of soldiers at Fort Carson in Colorado Springs.