WASHINGTON -- Suicides among active-duty soldiers in July more than doubled from June, accelerating a trend throughout the military this year that has prompted Pentagon leaders to redouble efforts to solve a puzzling problem.
The Army, which is the only branch of the military that issues monthly press statements on suicides, said 26 active-duty soldiers killed themselves in July, compared with 12 in June. The July total was the highest for any month since the Army began reporting suicides by month in 2009, according to Lt. Col. Lisa Garcia, an Army spokeswoman.
The Marine Corps had eight suicides in July, up from six in June. The July figure was its highest monthly total of 2012 and pushed its total for the year so far to 32 – equal to the Marines' total for all of 2011. The Marines' July figure is being posted on its website but was provided first to The Associated Press.
The Air Force said it had six in July, compared with two in June. The Navy had four in July but its June figure was not immediately available.
The Army's suicide numbers have been higher than the other services, in part because it is substantially larger than the Marine Corps, Navy and Air Force. The Army also has had more members in combat over the past decade. It was the main ground force in Iraq and has a preponderance of the U.S. troops today in Afghanistan.
For the first seven months of 2012, the Army recorded 116 suicides among active-duty soldiers. If that pace were maintained through December the year's total would approach 200, compared with 167 for all of 2011.
"Suicide is the toughest enemy I have faced in my 37 years in the Army," said Gen. Lloyd J. Austin III, the Army's vice chief of staff, who is spearheading his service's efforts to find ways to halt the surge in suicides.
"That said, I do believe suicide is preventable," Austin added. "To combat it effectively will require sophisticated solutions aimed at helping individuals to build resiliency and strengthen their life coping skills."
Suicidal behavior in the military is thought to be related to cumulative stress from combat duty, but it also is believed to be linked to a range of other pressures such as marital and financial problems as well as health issues.
Of the 26 active-duty soldiers who committed suicide in July, all were male and only two were officers, according to figures provided by the Army's office of public affairs. Thirteen were married, 10 were single and three were divorced. A breakdown of the deployment history of 14 of the 26 showed that six had never been deployed, seven had been deployed between one and three times, and one had been deployed six times.
So far this year the number of suicides in the military has surged beyond expectations, given that the pace of combat deployments has begun to slow. The Defense Department closely tracks suicides throughout the military but releases its figures only once a year. The Associated Press in June obtained an internal Defense Department document that revealed that there had been 154 suicides in the first 155 days of the year, though June 3. That marked the fastest pace of active-duty military suicides in the nation's decade of war.
The Tragedy Assistance Program for Survivors, a private organization that provides support for military members and their families, said counseling and other forms of care for emotionally distraught military members is often too little, too late.
"Others never seek help out of fear over how others will view seeking treatment," the group said in a statement Thursday.Need help? In the U.S., call 1-800-273-8255 for the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline.
Start of War: Oct. 7, 2001
<em>American soldiers hide behind a barricade during an explosion, prior to fighting with Taliban forces November 26, 2001 at the fortress near Mazar-e-Sharif, northern Afghanistan. (Photo by Oleg Nikishin/Getty Images)</em>
Number of U.S. Troops in Afghanistan: 88,000
<em>US Marines with the 26th Marine Expeditionary Unit deployed from the USS Bataan's Amphibious Ready Group arrive December 14, 2001 at an undisclosed location with field gear and weapons. (Photo by Johnny Bivera/Getty Images)</em>
Number of Troops at War's Peak
<em>U.S. Marines begin to form up their convoy at a staging area near Kandahar, Afghanistan, as they await orders to begin their trek to Kandahar to take control of the airfield 13 December, 2001. (DAVE MARTIN/AFP/Getty Images)</em><br><br> Number of U.S. troops in Afghanistan at the war's peak: About 101,000 in 2010. Allies provided about 40,000.
<em>U.S. President Barack Obama delivers a televised address from the East Room of the White House on June 22, 2011 in Washington, D.C. (Pablo Martinez Monsivais-Pool/Getty Images)</em><br><br> Withdrawal plans: 23,000 U.S. troops expected to come home by the end of the summer, leaving about 68,000 in Afghanistan. Most U.S. troops expected to be out of Afghanistan by the end of 2014, though the U.S. is expected to maintain a sizeable force of military trainers and a civilian diplomatic corps.
Number of U.S. Casualties
<em>American flags, each one representing the 4,454 American soldiers killed in the Iraq and Afghanistan wars, move in the breeze at The Christ Congregational United Church March 17, 2008 in Miami, Florida. (Photo by Joe Raedle/Getty Images)</em><br><br> Number of U.S. casualties: At least 1,828 members of the U.S. military killed as of Tuesday, according to an Associated Press count. According to the Defense Department, 15,786 U.S. service members have been wounded in hostile action.
Afghan Civilian Casualties
<em>Asan Bibi, 9, sits on a bench as burn cream is applied to her at Mirwais hospital October 13, 2009 Kandahar, Afghanistan. She, her sister and mother were badly burned when a helicopter fired into their tent in the middle of the night on October 3rd, according to their father. (Photo by Paula Bronstein/Getty Images)</em><br><br> Afghan civilian casualties: According to the United Nations, 11,864 civilians were killed in the conflict between 2007, when the U.N. began reporting statistics, and the end of 2011.
Cost of the War
<em>An Iraqi man counts money behind a pile of American dollars in his currency exchange bureau in Baghdad on April 11, 2012. (ALI AL-SAADI/AFP/Getty Images)</em><br><br> Cost of the war: $443 billion from fiscal year 2001 through fiscal year 2011, according to the Congressional Research Service.
Number of Times Obama Has Visited Afghanistan
<em>US President Barack Obama speaks to troops during a visit to Bagram Air Field on May 1, 2012 in Afghanistan. (MANDEL NGAN/AFP/Getty Images) </em><br><br> Number of times Obama has visited Afghanistan: 3 as president, including Tuesday, and 1 as a presidential candidate.