Suicide among U.S. troops increased 15% in 2020 from the previous year, a troubling trend that has defied Pentagon initiatives to prevent service members from taking their own lives.
In 2020, 580 troops died by suicide compared with 504 in 2019, according to figures confirmed Wednesday night for USA TODAY by congressional and Defense Department sources. The sources were not authorized to speak publicly about the figures, which the Pentagon plans to release on Thursday.
In 2018, there were 543 suicide deaths among troops. It’s not clear why there was a decrease in 2019 followed by a jump in 2020, according to the Defense Department official.
Most of the troops who have died by suicide are young enlisted men, the congressional aide said. The Army has seen a spike in suicide among its soldiers in Alaska, including six suspected suicides in the first five months of 2021. The Army has spent more than $200 million in recent years to improve the quality of life and prevent suicide on its bases in Alaska.
In last year’s report on suicide, the Pentagon noted that military suicide rates are comparable with the U.S. adult population for active-duty troops and lower for the National Guard and Reserve. However, the report noted that rates for active-duty “are not going in the desired direction.”
Service members and veterans who are in crisis or having thoughts of suicide and those who know a service member or veteran in crisis can call the Military Crisis Line/Veterans Crisis Line for confidential support 24 hours a day, seven days a week, 365 days a year. Call 1-800-273-8255 and Press 1 or text 838255 or chat online at VeteransCrisisLine.net/Chat.
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