Army Report Finds Rising Suicide Rate Among Troops

A new report by the U.S. Army says nine years of war is taking a toll on troops and commanders who aren't trained to look out for clues that a soldier may be suicidal. The study is the result of a 15-month look into the causes of rising suicide rates.

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ROBERT SIEGEL, host:

From NPR News, it's ALL THINGS CONSIDERED. I'm Robert Siegel.

MICHELE NORRIS, host:

And I'm Michele Norris.

Nearly 10 years of war in Iraq and Afghanistan have taken a toll on the U.S. Army. The rates of suicide among soldiers now eclipse the rates of suicide in the civilian world, and a new Army report out today points to several causes: among them, a rise in drug use and criminal activity, as well a military culture that hasn't made mental health a priority.

We'll hear from General Peter Chiarelli, the vice chief of staff of the Army, in just a moment, but first, NPR's Rachel Martin has more on just what the report reveals.

RACHEL MARTIN: The Army focused in on two groups of people: those who commit suicide without sending up smoke signals and those who do using pain medication, alcohol, dealing with marital problems and economic stress. Brigadier General Colleen McGuire led the study.

Brigadier General COLLEEN McGUIRE (Senior Leader, Development Office of the Chief of Staff, U.S. Army): Then you start seeing the spiral effect where eventually they get to the point where they feel there's no other recourse than some drastic action, unless there's intervention by leadership.

MARTIN: According to the report, one-third of all soldiers take at least one prescription drug, and 14 percent of all Army troops are on some kind of strong painkiller. The Army has concerns, according to the report, that the force is becoming, quote, "increasingly dependent on both legal and illegal drugs."

And Army Vice Chief Of Staff Peter Chiarelli says, bluntly, that commanders on the ground have been too busy fighting wars to think about their troops' psychological wellbeing.

General PETER CHIARELLI (Vice Chief of Staff, U.S. Army): What the American people want us to do, and that's prepare our soldiers to go into harm's way, some of those things came lower in our priority list, and we need to reinstitute them.

MARTIN: The Army has made hundreds of recommendations, including screening all troops for drug use and chipping away at the stigma that still looms over those who ask for help.

Rachel Martin, NPR News, the Pentagon.

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