US military suicides increase by 20% amid COVID-19 crisis
The number of suicides among US military members increased by as much as 20% this year compared to the same period in 2019, the Associated Press reported.
The rising suicide numbers comes as incidents of violent behavior have spiked as US troops struggle under COVID-19, deployment to war-zones, national disasters and civil unrest.
While the data is incomplete and causes of suicide are complex, officials in the Army and Air Force say they believe the coronavirus pandemic is adding stress to an already strained force.
Senior leaders in the Army, the land warfare branch of the US military, say they’ve seen about a 30% jump in active duty suicides so far this year. They told the AP that they are looking at shortening combat deployments.
Such a move would be part of a broader effort to make the wellbeing of soldiers and their families the Army’s top priority, overtaking combat readiness and weapons modernization.
The US Defense Department refused to provide 2020 data or discuss the issue with the AP, but Army officials said discussions at the Pentagon indicate there has been up to a 20% jump in overall military suicides this year.
The number of suicides vary by military branch. The Army’s 30% spike — from 88 suicides last year to 114 this year — pushes the total up because it’s the largest service. Army leaders say they can’t directly pin the increase on the virus, but the timing coincides.
“I can’t say scientifically, but what I can say is – I can read a chart and a graph, and the numbers have gone up in behavioral health related issues,” Army Secretary Ryan McCarthy said in an AP interview.