The US military is losing more people to suspected suicide than to hostile actions in Afghanistan.
Last July there were 38 suspected military suicides, the highest monthly total in the Iraq-Afghanistan era; 349 military personnel were suspected suicides in 2012.
The US lost 310 people in Afghanistan in 2012, an average of 26 per month. Both sets of figures are official statistics released by the Department of Defense.
But the active personnel suicide rate pales next to the number of veterans killing themselves.
A study released a week ago by the Department of Veterans Affairs examining suspected suicides from 1999-2010 estimated that 22 vets killed themselves each day, an average of one death every 22 minutes. The total is more than 8,000 per year.
More than 69 percent of veteran suicides were among individuals aged 50 years or older, the VA reported. That age group mostly includes veterans from WWII, the Korean Conflict, Viet Nam and Desert Storm.
The VA reported that veteran suicide rates had declined in the early 21st century and remained constant, but a Reuters wire service investigation of the same data found an increased suicide rate for veterans.
US suicides increased 11 percent from 2007-2011, according to the VA.
The VA figures were only an estimate, as only 21 states note military service on death certificates. The agency is doing further research to determine the actual data.
Noting the recent VA study, Sen. Patty Murray (D, Washington), who has proposed better mental health care for veterans, said, “"This data provides a fuller, more accurate, and sadly, an even more alarming picture of veteran suicide rates,"
In 2010, former Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff Mike Mullen told the Aspen Ideas Festival that the alarming rate of veteran suicides “has not gotten a lot of traction.”
The VA runs a Crisis Hot Line to help beleaguered veterans. Vets or their loved ones can dial 1-800-273-8255 and press 1 for assistance, or they can text 838255. The Crisis Hot Line Web site is at http://www.veteranscrisisline.net/. The line is open 24/7 every day of the year.
Specially trained Suicide Prevention Coordinators are available at every VA Medical Center. There are five medical centers in Illinois — Chicago, Hines (DuPage County), Great Lakes, Marion and Danville.