Military suicides hit a record high in 2012, with the 349 active-duty service members taking their own lives surpassing the number of Americans killed in Afghanistan in the same period (295).
The Associated Press obtained the Pentagon figures today, which have been measured since 2001.
“This is an epidemic that cannot be ignored. As our newest generation of servicemembers and veterans face unprecedented challenges, today’s news shows we must be doing more to ensure they are not slipping through the cracks,” said Senate Veterans Affairs Committee Chairwoman Patty Murray (D-Wash.).
“Providing comprehensive and coordinated care to our men and women in uniform is a step forward in making this a reality and I implore the VA and Pentagon to move quickly in implementing such measures as my Mental Health ACCESS Act,” she said. “With one servicemember dying by suicide almost every single day, and 18 veterans dying by suicide every day, any delay on this is inexcusable.”
That bill would require the Department of Defense to create a comprehensive, standardized suicide prevention program; expand eligibility for a variety of Department of Veterans Affairs mental health services to family members; strengthen oversight of DoD Mental Health Care and the Integrated Disability Evaluation System; improve training and education for our health care providers; create more peer-to-peer counseling opportunities; and require VA to establish accurate and reliable measures for mental health services.
The toll of suicides will also likely merge with the revived debate over gun control, as Rep. Hank Johnson (D-Ga.) and Sen. John Kerry (D-Mass.) wrapped up the 112th Congress with a push to allow military officials to ask service members about their private gun ownership.
“This is not an attempt to limit gun rights or an individual’s ability to own a firearm,” said Johnson. “Prohibiting commanders and mental health professionals from helping soldiers defies common sense and dangerously interferes with our obligation to ensure the health, welfare, morale and well-being of the troops. Military suicide is a complex problem that demands a range of actions to address it. This common sense provision adds another tool to help prevent tragic deaths.”
“We’ve come a long way since Vietnam in looking for and treating the invisible wounds left by months and years of combat, but we need to be even more vigilant about the signs that some in uniform are facing great difficulty. As of June, suicides were up 18 percent over the same period the year before – that’s a frightening figure but more importantly it needs to be a wake-up call,” Kerry said.