The suicide rate among active duty military dropped in 2011 for the first time since 2004.
The numbers are falling because of efforts by the military to understand behavior that lead to suicide among soldiers, according to the Wall Street Journal.
Among active-duty soldiers and those in the Reserves and the National Guard, 278 took their own life in 2011. That number is down by nine percent from the 305 in 2010 and finally stops an annual rise in the numbers.
Army officials told the Wall Street Journal they consider the numbers to be “leveling off” in part because of mental health screening and a better understanding of post traumatic stress disorder and concussions. The draw down of troops deployed overseas also is playing a role in the changing statistics, according to the report.
The numbers started to climb in 2005 as troop deployments to Iraq and Afghanistan became longer and more frequent. Concussions and traumatic brain injuries have been more regular injuries among soldiers because of the roadside bombs that are a signature of the two wars, according to the WSJ.
The suicide rate in the Army, 24 per 100,000, continues to be higher than that of the general population in the United States, about 19 for every 100,000 people. For soldiers who served in Afghanistan and Iraq, the rate is about 38 per 100,000.
In studying the suicide rates, the Army found that concussions have become a serious problem among soldiers who have served in Iraq and Afghanistan. Screening for mental health issues has brought to light a concussion rate that has gone up five times in 10 years. Traumatic brain injuries can be especially difficult on the mental health of the victim.
While announcing the good news about suicide rates, the Army also announced bad news about domestic abuse and child abuse among soldiers.
Soldiers charged with sexual assault jumped 41 percent since 2006 to 2,290. Domestic violence went up 85 percent since 2001 to 2,699 reported occurrences. The Pentagon has proposed a strategy for addressing these crimes.
Army Vice Chief of Staff Gen. Peter Chiarelli discussed the numbers in January while announcing the Pentagon’s proposals for addressing gaps in policy that could lead to better mental health care.
Chiarelli also proposed a name change for the often-diagnosed Post Traumatic Stress Disorder. If the health care community drops the word “disorder” then soldiers and veterans might be more inclined to seek help, he said.
“I just want to get rid of the ‘D,'” Chiarelli said. “You can have the best treatments in the world, but if you can’t get someone to come in and get the treatment because they don’t want to admit that they have a [disorder], they aren’t going to come in.”
Veterans having a difficult time getting the legal help they need to fight for their health care benefits should contact a qualified attorney.