5 facts about military suicides

October 23, 2014

Suicide has become the leading cause of death in the U.S. military—exceeding accidents, car crashes, and even combat. Historically, the suicide rate in the military has been below the civilian rate. But since the early 2000s, the rate of suicides has been steadily increasing and the problem, as Army Gen. Raymond T. Odierno says, is “going to go on for many years.”

Here are five facts you should know about military and veteran suicides:

1. In 2012, the number of military suicides exceeded the total of those killed in combat. According to the Pentagon, suicides of active-duty troops surged to a record 349, almost one per day. The Army, by far the largest of the military services, had the highest number of suicides at 182. The Navy had 60, the Air Force 59, and the Marine Corps had 48.

2. Data released by the Pentagon for 2008-2011 shows that 52 percent of military suicides were by those who did not deploy to a combat zone; 34 percent deployed but in a non-combat role; only 14 percent were combat veterans.

3. A study conducted by the Army found that being deployed increased suicide risk for women more than it did for men, though suicide risk still remained lower for deployed women than for deployed men. Additionally, the study identified a correlation between demotion and suicide risk: soldiers who had been demoted in the past two years experienced increased suicide risk, compared to those without such demotions. There was also increased risk in soldiers without at least a high school diploma or a GED certificate, compared to soldiers with similar or higher degrees. The data suggest that being male, white, or a junior enlisted rank put individuals at the highest risk of suicide.

4. Analysis of military suicides in 2011 found that service members who were divorced had a 55 percent higher rate of suicide than those who were married. That study also found that most service members who attempted suicide (about 65 percent) had a known history of behavior problems, while a smaller percentage (45 percent) who killed themselves had such a history.

5. Although veterans make up only 10 percent of the population, they account for nearly one in five of all suicides in America. The suicide rate for veterans is nearly double that of the civilian population, and every day, 22 veterans take their own lives—about one suicide every 65 minutes. More than 69 percent of all veteran suicides were among those 50 and older. Mental-health professionals say they are likely to be Vietnam veterans who give up on life after their children are out of the house or a longtime marriage falls apart.

If you know someone who is considering suicide, do not leave him or her alone. Try to get your loved one to seek immediate help from his or her doctor or the nearest hospital emergency room. Remove any access they may have to firearms or other potential tools for suicide, including medications. Call 911 or the toll-free National Suicide Prevention Lifeline at 1-800-273-TALK (8255).

Other Articles in the 5 Facts Series:

Gambling in America •  Truett Cathy • Hunger in America • Suicide in America • Christian Persecution •  Civil Rights Act of 1964 • Supreme Court’s contraceptive mandate decision • Fathers and Fathers Day • Euthanasia in Europe • Marriage in America • March for Life • Abortion in America • ‘War on Poverty’