American Soldiers More Likely To Die by Suicide Than in Combat, Pentagon Data Show

The prevalence of suicide among active-duty soldiers has persisted and even increased in recent years.

AP/Andrew Harnik
A member of the 3rd U.S. Infantry Regiment also known as The Old Guard, places flags in front of each headstone at Arlington National Cemetery. AP/Andrew Harnik

A Pentagon study has revealed that American soldiers were nearly nine times more likely to succumb to suicide than to enemy fire over a five-year period ending in 2019.

The comprehensive study, released by the Defense Health Agency in May, underscores suicide as the leading cause of death among active-duty soldiers between 2014 and 2019, with 883 suicide deaths documented during the timeframe.

“Evaluation of various public health suicide prevention programs and services, and a greater emphasis on firearm storage and safety, may be needed to reduce suicide,” the study’s authors noted.

Accidents followed closely as the second leading cause of death, claiming 814 soldiers’ lives, while combat deaths accounted for 96 fatalities. Notably, the reported suicide figures precede numerous Army and Pentagon initiatives aimed at combating suicide.

The initiatives include workforce programs addressing harmful behaviors, such as alcohol abuse, that can contribute to suicides. Additionally, combat deaths have seen a decline, dropping from 31 in 2014 to 16 in 2019, coinciding with reduced deployments to conflict zones in the Middle East and Afghanistan.

However, the prevalence of suicide among active-duty soldiers has persisted and even increased in recent years, according to data obtained by USA Today. In the current year, 55 soldiers have already died by suicide. Army officials attribute this rise to broader societal trends, noting similar increases in suicide rates across the nation.

The suicide rate, measured in deaths per 100,000 soldiers, has generally been on the rise since 2019. In 2019, the rate was 28.8 per 100,000, which escalated to 36.2 per 100,000 in 2020 before witnessing a slight decline to 36.1 per 100,000 in 2021.

Looking ahead, the Pentagon plans to hire up to 2,000 personnel over the next four years to focus on preventing problematic behaviors, such as excessive drinking, which can lead to suicide and sexual assault. Last year, the first members of the Integrated Primary Prevention Workforce were deployed to bases identified as having the highest risk.


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