Military suicides drop, other problems on rise

January 20, 2012

The number of suicides among soldiers has been leveling off, but there has been a dramatic jump in domestic violence, sex crimes and other destructive behavior in a force that has been stressed by a decade of war, according to an Army report released Thursday.

“There’s a lot of good news in this report, but there’s also some bad news,” the Army vice chief of staff, Gen. Peter Chiarelli, told a Pentagon news conference. “We know we’ve got still a lot of work to do.”

Suicides among active-duty soldiers and National Guard and Army Reserve soldiers not on active duty totaled 278 last year, down 9 percent from 2010.

“I think we’ve at least arrested this problem and, hopefully, will start to push it down,” Chiarelli said.

But violent sex crimes and domestic violence have increased more than 30 percent since 2006 and child abuse by 43 percent.

“After 10 years of war with an all-volunteer force, you’re going to have problems that no one could have [forecast] before this began,” he said.

Chiarelli released a 200-page report for military leaders and health-care providers that is intended to assess the physical and mental condition of the force, disciplinary problems and deficiencies in how the Army deals with problems.

It follows up on a 2010 report that said the Army was failing some soldiers by missing signs of trouble or by looking the other way as commanders tried to keep up with tight deployment schedules needed to fight in both Iraq and Afghanistan.

Chiarelli said commanders are getting more troops into substance-abuse programs; are removing more troops from the service for misconduct; and are preventing would-be recruits with alcohol and drug convictions from joining.

Other details of the report include:

● Post-traumatic stress disorder is epidemic, and there could be 472,000 U.S. service members with the condition, half of them in the Army.

■ Some 24,000 soldiers were referred to substance-abuse programs in the 2011 fiscal year, which ended in September.

■ The Army had more than 126,000 diagnosed cases of traumatic brain injury from 2000 to 2010. That included more than 95,000 mild cases, about 20,000 moderate cases and more than 3,500 cases in which there were severe, penetrating injuries.

Chiarelli said the military has taken “a huge step forward,” with new screening procedures for troops who suffer concussions, a frequent injury in wars in which makeshift bombs have been insurgents’ weapons of choice.

Troops are now taken off the battlefield and held off for days or weeks until they recover, he said.

— Associated Press

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