Army Grapples with ‘Epidemic’ of Suicides

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April 6, 2010
SECRECY NEWS from the FAS Project on Government Secrecy
Volume 2010, Issue No. 27
April 6, 2010
Secrecy News Blog: http://www.fas.org/blog/secrecy/

The U.S. Army is still struggling to come to grips with the unusually high rate of suicide within its ranks.

“The Army ratios are above the national average and in some months recently, there have been more suicides in the Army than combat deaths in Iraq and Afghanistan,” observed Nancy Youssef of McClatchy News last week. “There is no pattern to suicides. One third who commit suicide have never served in combat; another third commit suicide while in combat; and yet another third do it once they return, according to Army statistics.”

Secretary of the Army John M. McHugh issued two directives on March 26 that are intended to further an understanding of the problem and to improve the availability of information to surviving family members.

Effectively immediately, all suspected suicides will be subject to an official (AR 15-6) investigation, the purpose of which is “to identify the circumstances, methods, and the contributing factors surrounding the event…. The completed investigation should provide clear, relevant, and practical recommendation(s) to prevent future suicides,” according to Army Directive 2010-01 (pdf).

A second Army directive (pdf) provided guidance for reporting (and redacting) information to be provided to family members, who are to be “kept fully informed while the investigation is underway.”

Although national security, third-person privacy and other FOIA-exempt information may be withheld, “the release authority cannot withhold information merely because it may be emotionally difficult for the surviving Family members to see or hear.” However, “potentially upsetting information should be segregated from the body of the report and made available in a separate sealed envelope that is clearly marked as potentially upsetting information.”

An updated official account of the number of Army suicides through the end of March will be published on Thursday, reported Sig Christenson of the San Antonio Express-News on April 2.

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