This new report, issued on June 11, listed Army suicides (confirmed and potential) by soldiers on active duty and reservists not on active duty for May, April, and for 2008 and 2009 year-to-date. By implication, the Army intends to release monthly updates of its suicide statistics, joining other regular statistical releases such recruiting and retention and mobilized reservists.
The Army's leadership appears to have succumbed to pressure to do something" about its suicide problem." All of the military services should vigorously fund and implement suicide prevention programs. Commanders at all levels should give sincere attention to the issue. And as a general matter, the Congress should fully fund Secretary Gates's priorities to improve the welfare of the troops and their families. Gates is right to express his concern about the potential fragility of the all-volunteer force and the imperative of preserving it. Attention to suicide, its causes and prevention, is part of this.
The Army's response is typical for any bureaucracy: collect the statistics, slice them up, and tabulate them in a recurring report. Regrettably, on the matter of suicides the Army's bureaucratic response is misguided.
First, by collecting up these individual tragedies into summary statistics, the Army is showing disrespect to these soldiers and the personal circumstances that led to each dreadful ending.
Second, by submitting to the pressure for regular reporting on suicides, the Army is ratifying the entirely false notion that those who volunteer for military service are victims, and that suicide is one of those terrible ways that these ostensibly misguided volunteers occasionally pay for their victimhood. The Army apparently won't dare defend the notion that military service may have saved some of its soldiers from suicide by affording them a meaningful life they may not have found in their civilian youth.
Finally, the Army's summary statistics on suicide are presented without any attempt at context. For example:
1. What is the suicide rate (suicides per 100,000 per year)?
2. How does this rate compare to the 18-24 year old civilian cohort?
3. What are the suicide rates of those who have deployed compared to those who have not? Combat action versus no combat action?
4. What is the Army's suicide rate in 2009 compared to 1999, 1989, and 1979?
The Army's monthly suicide watch" report reflects a bureaucracy entirely on the defensive. It is disrespectful to the slain soldiers and ratifies a false narrative about military service. Most tellingly, it shows an Army leadership un—to defend its institution.