Defense Secretary Leon Panetta, in testimony before a joint hearing of the House of Representatives Armed Services Committee and the Committee on Veterans Affairs, said late last week that 206 service members may have taken their own lives in the first 6 months of 2012.
104 military suicides have been confirmed this year. Currently, there are 102 investigations into potential suicides.“That is an epidemic,” Panetta said. “Something is wrong.”
According to a report released by the Pentagon in mid-June 2012, the most common cause of death for military personnel besides combat is suicide.
The report states that suicide has more deaths than traffic deaths, heart disease, and cancer.
In 2011, 26% of military deaths occurred in combat, 20% by suicide and 17% in traffic accidents. The percentage of suicides is up from 10% in 2005.
In 2012, servicemen suicides are occurring once a day. Current data reported by the Associated Press shows that by the end of the Iraq War, suicides could become more frequent than combat deaths.
Through June 3, there were 127 combat deaths inAfghanistan, and 154 confirmed and suspected suicides.
Defense Secretary Leon Panetta told Congress earlier this week that he has ordered all military branches
“to immediately look at that situation and determine what’s behind it, what’s causing it and what can we do to make sure it doesn’t happen.”
Panetta also stated on Wednesday that he will have all service branches follow the Army’s lead in reviewing mental health cases dating back to the year 2001. His plan is to find out whether any current or former service member was denied appropriate medical retirement benefits.
All the military services except the Navy reported increases in suicide among active-duty members in 2012.
The Army – which has the highest suicide rate and is equivalent to the civilian rate, says they are spending approximately $75 million on research to understand why it is happening and how to fix it.
Army Col. Carl Castro, who is the head of the research teamtrying to find effective forms of prevention and treatment says no one has any answers so far.
“We were slow to react (at first) because we weren’t sure if it was an anomaly or it was a real trend,” Castro said. “Then it just takes time to program the money and get the studies up and going.”
Castro said the research efforts will hopefully start producing findings in the next few months.