October 17, 2003

Army Concerned About Suicides of U.S. Troops in Iraq

Reuters: "At least 13 U.S. troops have committed suicide in Iraq, representing more than 10 percent of American noncombat deaths there, and the Army dispatched a suicide-prevention expert to assess the problem, officials said on Thursday."

http://www.commondreams.org/headlines03/1016-09.htm

Published on Thursday, October 16, 2003 by Reuters
Army Concerned About Suicides of U.S. Troops in Iraq
by Will Dunham

WASHINGTON - At least 13 U.S. troops have committed
suicide in Iraq, representing more than 10 percent of
American noncombat deaths there, and the Army
dispatched a suicide-prevention expert to assess the
problem, officials said on Thursday.

At least 11 U.S. Army soldiers have committed suicide
during Iraq operations, most with self-inflicted
gunshot wounds, and two Marines have committed suicide
using firearms, officials said.

Kukral said 478 soldiers had been evacuated from Iraq
for mental health reasons as of Sept. 25.


One official said "a few more" Army deaths were being
investigated as possible suicides, and the Navy said
the death of one service member was under
investigation. The Air Force said it had no such
cases.

Army officials have expressed concern about the
suicides, many of which occurred after President Bush
declared major combat operations over in Iraq on May
1.

A 12-person Mental Health Advisory Team dispatched by
the Army recently left Iraq after studying a wide
range of mental health concerns, including suicide,
among U.S. troops facing combat stress and
longer-than-expected deployments.

The 130,000 U.S. troops in Iraq are facing yearlong
stints amid daily guerrilla-style attacks.

Lt. Col. Jerry Swanner, the Army's suicide-prevention
program manager at the Pentagon, was a member of the
team, said Martha Rudd, an Army spokeswoman.

"Of course we're concerned," Rudd said. "Even one
suicide is alarming and upsetting."

The suicide deaths are included among the 120 U.S.
troops who have died in "non-hostile" circumstances in
Iraq in the past seven months, mostly vehicle and
other types of accidents. Another 212 U.S. troops have
died from enemy fire, according to the Pentagon.

"When war is actually going on, behavioral experts say
the soldiers aren't as likely to commit suicide during
that period. While they're fighting, they're not
thinking about their problems. But once open
hostilities cease and the peacekeeping part begins,
for some soldiers that can be very rewarding work but
for some (others) it can be very stressful," Rudd
said.

She also noted that troops in Iraq have guns readily
available, enabling them to act on what otherwise
might have been a fleeting suicidal impulse.

The team sent to Iraq included psychiatrists,
psychologists, social workers and experts in combat
stress, said Lyn Kukral, a spokeswoman for the Office
of the Army Surgeon General and the Army Medical
Command.

The team was expected to complete a report on its
findings and make recommendations in two to three
weeks, officials said.

"Suicide is just one aspect of many behavioral health
and individual readiness issues that the team is
assessing. The team is interested in identifying
particular deployment stressors and their impact on
the deployed soldiers. The team is also concerned with
reviewing the effectiveness of current combat-stress
control doctrine," Kukral said in a statement.

Kukral said 478 soldiers had been evacuated from Iraq
for mental health reasons as of Sept. 25.

The Army and Navy annually average about 11 suicides
per 100,000 personnel, the Air Force about 9.5 per
100,000 and the Marines about 12.6 per 100,000.

Referring to the Army rate, Rudd said, "I don't think
the suicides we've had in Iraq are going to seriously
skew the numbers."

2003 Reuters Ltd

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Posted by richard at October 17, 2003 09:11 PM