Suicide rate among Army's active-duty members up by 30% amid Covid-19, say military officials

Several generals and officers have conceded that stress, isolation and uncertainty in times of pandemic have taken a toll on the personnel


                            Suicide rate among Army's active-duty members up by 30% amid Covid-19, say military officials
(Getty Images)

The US Army has been one of the worst-hit institutions during the coronavirus pandemic that has claimed more than 200,000 lives in the country. Suicides among active duty members of the army have gone up by 30 percent in the six months since the pandemic started, Associated Press cited senior Army leaders as saying. They also said that they are aiming to shorten combat deployments. 

The AP report also said that suicides in the military went up by 20 percent in 2020 compared to the previous year, even though the first three months of the current year saw a fall in self-inflicted violence and murder. There is a 10 per cent difference between what data and what the officials are saying. The Army recorded 114 suicides since March (it was 88 last year) which made several generals and officers concede that added stress, isolation and lack of certainty because of the Covid-19 pandemic have taken a toll on the uniformed personnel. Mental health experts said they witnessed a corresponding rise in referrals among veterans since the onset of the pandemic. 

The grim statistics has made veterans and military leaders to request the troops to keep a check on their colleagues in the services, particularly the injured ones who might feel less motivated to reach out for medical and mental health amid the pandemic (Getty Images)

The US Navy saw a massive impact of the deadly disease as some of its frontline vessels, including USS Theodore Roosevelt, got paralyzed by the spread of the pandemic on board. The issue even saw a terrible fallout after its captain Brett Cozier, who himself was affected by the virus, was removed after his letter written to the authorities seeking help in faster response to the outbreak in the ship was leaked to the media. 

The grim statistics has made veterans and military leaders to request the troops to keep a check on their colleagues in the services, particularly the injured ones who might feel less motivated to reach out for medical and mental health amid the pandemic. In 2018, a report on the US military suicides found young enlisted men at the biggest risk for suicide and used firearms to end their lives in 60 percent of the cases. 

Pentagon refuses to share 2020 data

The AP report said the Pentagon refused to share 2020 data or discuss the matter but cited Army officials confirming in defense department meetings that there has indeed been a rise in suicides in the military this year. “The numbers vary by service. The active Army’s 30% spike — from 88 last year to 114 this year — pushes the total up because it’s the largest service. The Army Guard is up about 10%, going from 78 last year to 86 this year. The Navy total is believed to be lower this year,” the report added. It also cited the Army leaders saying though it is difficult to point out a particular cause for the suicide but agreed that the pandemic has disrupted the process to bring its personnel together. 

“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 interview with AP which was published on Sunday, September 27. “We cannot say definitively [the spike in suicides and murders] is because of Covid. But there is a direct correlation from when Covid started, the numbers actually went up.”

Preliminary findings for the first three months of the current year showed an overall drop in military suicides across active duty and reserves, compared to what it was during the same time in 2019. That trend, added with the fall in deaths in the Navy and Army, encouraged the military leaders who have been trying to reduce the suicide rates but the numbers went up again this spring. 

Covid-19 adds stress, says Air Force chief

“Covid adds stress,” Gen. Charles Brown, chief of staff of the Air Force said publicly, the report added. “From a suicide perspective, we are on a path to be as bad as last year. And that’s not just an Air Force problem, this is a national problem because Covid-19 adds some additional stressors – a fear of the unknown for certain folks.”
 
The report also said that as of September 15, 98 cases of suicides were recorded among active-duty and reserve members of the Air Force and the number was the same as last year. However, the figures registered in 2019 were the worst among the Air Force members in three decades. 
 
Army Chief of Staff Gen. James McConville said fresh attention is being given to the service members “the time that they need to come back together and recover”. “We were very focused on readiness four years ago because we had some readiness challenges, and we did a great job. The force is very, very ready now. But I think it’s time now to focus on people,” he told the AP.

Along with McConville, Army Sgt. Maj. Michael Grinston said the units have started “stand-up” days, wherein the commanders focus on bringing people together to make sure they connect with each other and their families and ensure they have strong values in how they treat one other.