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MELISSA BLOCK, host:

From NPR News, this is ALL THINGS CONSIDERED. I'm Melissa Block.

ROBERT SIEGEL, host:

And I'm Robert Siegel.

There is a disturbing report from the Army this week. In January, 24 soldiers committed suicide. Actually, seven confirmed cases and 17 awaiting confirmation. Compare that to five suicides in the Army in January of last year. Twenty-four is not just the biggest monthly total since the Army started counting in 1980. It is actually more deaths than were sustained in combat last month by all branches of the armed forces combined.

General Peter Chiarelli is Army vice chief of staff, and joins us from the Pentagon.

Welcome to the program, General.

General PETER CHIARELLI (U.S. Army): Thank you, sir.

SIEGEL: Why? Why 24 suicides in one month?

General CHIARELLI: Well, if we knew why, in every single instance we would, in fact, be able to stop this problem. But it is something that we have to get at. We've got to try to find out why, why the numbers continue to go up.

SIEGEL: That number is, it's beyond a spike. It's completely out of line with what you were seeing in every month. Did anything happen in January that might account for there being a radical difference?

General CHIARELLI: Not that we can tell. It is truly the highest monthly number we've seen since we started tracking suicides.

SIEGEL: Were these suicides all or mostly soldiers who've served in Iraq or Afghanistan?

General CHIARELLI: What were seeing, and I don't have all the data on these 24, but what we're seeing is, it's about a third who are deployed, a third who in fact have deployed or have deployment history, and another third who have never deployed. That's what we're basically seeing - or at least saw last year in those numbers.

SIEGEL: In terms of age, are we seeing typically young soldiers? Are they all or nearly all male soldiers? Tell us more about the breakdown.

General CHIARELLI: Well, the males are definitely the highest. The younger soldiers are, too, definitely the highest. Those are two trends that we see across the board.

SIEGEL: Now, the mother of a soldier who took his own life says the Army needs to encourage soldiers to seek counseling, help outside the Army. Does the Army have adequate resources to offer people who have serious troubles or depression? Or are the resources there but the soldier's just - just not eager to take advantage of them?

General CHIARELLI: And that's one of the things I have to, in fact, look very, very hard at here in the next couple of weeks and months, is our resources. We've done a lot to increase our resources in the last year. But whether those numbers are enough today, I can't tell you. I'm sure that it depends on the post-camp or station that you're at. But I will tell you one of the things that we have to do is to take away the stigma of asking for help.

SIEGEL: Do you think long and multiple deployments overseas are contributing?

General CHIARELLI: Well, it's a stressed force. We've got soldiers on their third and fourth deployments. Yet when we look at some of those numbers, we see them no more likely to commit suicide than the soldier that's on his first deployment. And as many Americans are today, when soldiers come home, they have some of the same issues when it comes to economical issues, relationship issues, that other folks have, that are, we know from past experience, contributors to those who commit suicide.

SIEGEL: Are you looking at recruiting and whether when people are entering the service, there might be more young people who are prone to depression than you'd want to see there?

General CHIARELLI: Sir, this is - this is not business as usual. These numbers are high, and we are going to look at every single facet of the Army to make a determination on what we can find out, and what we need to do. But one of the things that I've been stressing is the need to go back to do the things that we did so well for so long. And one of the things we want to ensure is that as stressed as the Army is today, as busy as it is today, that it's not forgetting those things that kept our suicide numbers far below civilian suicide numbers in the past, and make sure that we're doing those basic things: never leaving a buddy behind, ask him if he needs help, and if he needs help and we determine he needs help, ensuring that we get him to the proper help, be it to a chaplain or to a mental health-care provider.

SIEGEL: Well, General Chiarelli, thank you very much for talking with us.

General CHIARELLI: Thank you, sir.

SIEGEL: That's General Peter Chiarelli, who is Army vice chief of staff, speaking to us from the Pentagon.

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