Military Suicides Outpace Combat-Related Deaths in U.S. Military for Fourth Year in a Row

349 suicides in the military last year


one way home

The number of suicides in the U.S. military in 2012 outstripped the number of combat-related deaths for the fourth year in a row, reaching a record high. The number of suicides has been steadily increasing since 2004, and rose 16 percent last year (to 349 from 301, exceeding even the Pentagon's projection of 325). Back in September, the outgoing defense secretary, Leon Panetta, talked to USA Today about what might be fuelling the rise in suicides:

Part of it I think is due to a nation that's been at war for over a decade. You have repeated deployments and sustained combat exposure to enormous stresses and strains on our troops and on their families that produced a lot of seen and un-seen wounds that contribute to the suicide risk. At the same time, we're dealing with what is a broader societal problem. I think CDC (Centers for Disease Control and Prevention) said something like 37,000 are committing suicide nationally. And that means we have to deal with some of the broader societal issues: substance abuse, financial distress, relationship problems, the kind of risk factors that endure even beyond our involvement in war. So it is, I think, very much a problem that not just the military, but society in general has to confront and deal with.  

In the interview, Panetta said he was making suicide prevention a top priority. But it's not a new problem. In 2009, suicides in the army hit their highest rate since the Vietnam War. By 2010, military leaders were already expressing concern with their failure to reverse the trend. From a Time article dated April 3, 2010:

"It's frankly frustrating that with the level of effort that we've put out there, that we haven't stemmed the [suicide] tide," General George Casey, the Army's top officer, told a House panel March 23. When pressed by a lawmaker the previous month on whether the Army was getting closer to solving the challenge, Army Secretary John McHugh was blunt. "Sadly, the answer is not much closer," he told the Senate Armed Services Committee Feb. 23. "As to why people take this step — particularly as to why men and women in uniform do — we're still in many ways befuddled."

Last July, the U.S. Army provided at least $3 million to the University of Indiana to develop an anti-suicide nasal spray. Suicide is also the leading cause of death among soldiers in the Israeli Defense Force. Nearly a third of U.S. military suicides between 2005 and 2010 were committed by troops that had never been deployed.

NEXT: Obama Chastises GOP Over Debt Ceiling

Editor's Note: We invite comments and request that they be civil and on-topic. We do not moderate or assume any responsibility for comments, which are owned by the readers who post them. Comments do not represent the views of or Reason Foundation. We reserve the right to delete any comment for any reason at any time. Report abuses.

  1. That’s sad and disturbing, of course, but at least these are suicides and not the suicide-following-homicide business we’ve seen on occasion these days.

    1. True, but at least the Taliban get a tactical advantage out of their suicides because Abdul the Depressed thinks ahead to strap on a bomb to take out a few infidels with him. I mean, if we’re going to keep on with this foolishness, we should at least allow our troops the option of joining tokk?tai units.


      1. Nah, that’s un-American. Instead, I say that we channel these impulses and use them in our drone army.

  2. We have an Army run by incompetent political egg sucking assholes who take these kids and lock them in barbed wire camps for months at a time telling them that if they drink, fuck or do anything to blow off steam they will be court martialed and sent to jail. How could that possibly produce suicides?

    The Army is being squeezed to death by a vice grip of shithead feminists and bible thumping evangelicals. These two insidious forces have combined to take every ounce of fun and common sense out of the military.

  3. In my experience, the guys who attempted suicide tended to fall into two groups: the losers who couldn’t function, and the smart people who couldn’t disassociate from the misery and couldn’t function.

    The two groups are actually very different and require different approaches.

    My time in the Navy spanned a time when bootcamp became kindler and gentler, and my impression is that the losers were no longer systematically being washed out as incapable of making it through boot-camp and were falling apart after reaching the fleet.

    The smart guys, on the other hand, really were a product of how crappily the old man was running the show.

    I think suicides could be reduced dramatically simply by adopting an idea of of Heinlein’s Starship Troopers – let any service member quit at any time. Admin sep them and let them go on their way. Makes it harder to fight wars of convenience, but in my mind that’s an additional feature and not at all a bug.

    1. Look, we have to be ready to fight every country on Earth at any given moment. Letting people quit isn’t consistent with that policy.

  4. Do they really think they can develop a nasal spray that prevents our overlords from engaging in unnecessarily belligerent foreign policy?

    1. I’m assuming the proposed nasal spray shoots nanobots directly into the brain, which program it to dispense with suicidal thoughts. Along with some other editing.

    2. Last July, the U.S. Army provided at least $3 million to the University of Indiana to develop an anti-suicide nasal spray.

      And life draws closer to Star Trek. First the iPad, and now this!

  5. “Nearly a third of U.S. military suicides between 2005 and 2010 were committed by troops had never been deployed.”

    Lots of young people (the largest group for suicides, yes?) and take them away from family, home, other support and stress them out… who knew?

    As for combat vets and suicide – similar, yet more so. Plus guys coming home and finding the wife has left, changed locks and sort of didn’t mention it (saw that happen to a CPT after my second deployment) etc. But I am sure the solutions the VA and other TOP MEN will come up with work!

    1. I have seen a million stories like that. I really think it is the environment we have created.

      1. I really think it is the environment we have created.

        “Jody” has been around since the beginning of time.

    2. At least she only changed the locks.

      One guy found that she had invited a bunch of methheads to live there after she took everything, including interior doors and left! She had made sure his name was the only one on all the utilities too…

      God it was pathetic: he still wanted to take her back!

      1. Fuck people. What a cunt.

      2. The girl was 17. They’d been together since the guy had been at prototype training in Idaho 3 years before.

        They got married as soon as she didn’t need parental consent.

        One of our transfers from another ship recognized the girl’s name and claimed that she had been trying to pick up sailors at age 12 so she could get out of her shitty home situation. That wasn’t the worst part of it… he swore she had been moved in with some third class about her 13th birthday. A different third class than are poor ‘victim’.

        Of course, who am I to talk. Look at how my marriage exploded.

  6. Oh and Ed, nice snarky alt-text. D-, maybe at best.

  7. We really had less than 350 combat deaths last year? So this is good news. While I don’t think Afghanistan is worth a dime or a single American death, at least it’s low.

    As the article points out, 1/3 of the troops committing suicide were never deployed. The fact is, young people in their late teens and twenties are not entirely emotionally stable. Put them in a situation where they are under a lot of pressure and some snap. I wonder if the suicide rate for civilians in that age group is any lower?

    Reason likes to point out the some situations have to solution – this is one of them.

  8. And because of this, I have to attend boring repetitive suicide prevention lectures every year.

  9. Rates, not counts, guys. Rates matter, when we’re talking statistics and changes. Counts don’t, except when you can get rates from them.

    (And “more than combat related”?


    Would it be better if we changed tactics and equipment to get more people killed in combat, so one number was lower than another?

    I’d prefer a combat system where no US troops got killed, but that wouldn’t change the meaning of the rate of troop suicide.

    Imagine a world with zero US combat deaths and a lower suicide rate than the general population. Would that be a tragedy? I don’t think so.)

  10. Thats some pretty sad stuff dude. For real!

  11. Minor point, but there is no University of Indiana. It is Indiana University. Not that I would put it past our government to pay a “university” headed by a well-connected individual to develop something like that.

Please to post comments

Comments are closed.