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Army reports more suspected suicides

Associated Press / March 6, 2009
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WASHINGTON - After a sharp spike in soldier suicides in January, the Army said yesterday that there were another 18 suspected suicides last month.

The increase continues a four-year rise in an Army under stress from two wars.

"It's a very high number; it's very disturbing," Colonel Thomas Languirand, head of the Army suicide prevention program, said of February's toll. "We're taking every effort we can think of" to try to bring it down.

The Army usually releases figures on self-inflicted deaths only once a year. But due to the large number of suspected suicides in January - 24 - officials decided to announce monthly figures to focus attention on the problem and on prevention programs available.

Army Vice Chief of Staff General Peter Chiarelli said there were two confirmed suicides in February and 16 suspected but still being investigated - compared with 11 confirmed deaths in the same month of 2008.

Usually the vast majority of suspected suicides are eventually confirmed, but the investigations can take months. When January figures were released last month, officials said there were seven confirmed and 17 pending, a figure updated yesterday to 12 confirmed and 12 pending.

Speaking by telephone to a group of bloggers, Chiarelli noted that officials already have bolstered suicide prevention programs and are having special training sessions this month and next, but he said no one thing can solve the problem.

The military has added mental health staff, operates hotlines for soldiers to call, and has programs to counter stress on the battlefields in Iraq and Afghanistan. There was no breakdown on how many of the suicides happened at the warfront.

Amid stress on the military in fighting the wars, troops are having difficulty keeping their marriages and personal relationships intact and are suffering financial, legal and work problems. Chiarelli said yesterday that unemployment also seemed to be a factor in February suicides among National Guard and Reserve members.

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