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Tuesday, November 17, 2009

Soldier Suicides To Top Those In 2008

WASHINGTON — Soldier suicides this year are almost sure to top last year's grim totals, but a recent decline in the pace of such incidents could mean the Army is starting to make progress in stemming them, officials said Tuesday.

Army Vice Chief of Staff General Peter Chiarelli said that as of Monday, 140 active duty soldiers were believed to have died of self-inflicted wounds so far in 2009. That's the same as were confirmed for all of 2008.

"We are almost certainly going to end the year higher than last year ... this is horrible, and I do not want to downplay the significance of these numbers in any way," he said.

But Chiarelli said there has been a tapering off in recent months from large surges in suspected suicides in January and February.

"Our goal since the beginning has been to reduce the overall incidence of suicide and I do believe we are finally beginning to see progress being made," Chiarelli told a Pentagon press conference.

He attributed those hints of a turning to some unprecedented efforts the Army has made since February to educate soldiers and leaders about the issue.

Officials are still stumped about what is driving the historically high rates across the military force. When asked whether the rates reflect unprecedented high stress from long and repeated deployments to provide manpower for the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan, Chiarelli said he didn't know.

"The reality is there is no simple answer," he said. "Each suicide is as unique as the individuals themselves."


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