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Army: Suicide rate among soldiers continues on record pace

  • Story Highlights
  • In May, 17 soldiers were either confirmed or suspected to have taken their own lives
  • Number of potential or confirmed suicides since January stands at 82
  • Last year the Army recorded 133 suicides, the most ever
  • "We've got to do better," Army vice chief of staff says in a statement
By Mike Mount
CNN Senior Pentagon Producer
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WASHINGTON (CNN) -- The suicide rate among U.S. Army soldiers jumped in May -- continuing a four-month upward trend and on a record pace for a second straight year, according to Army statistics released Thursday.

During a service-wide stand-down, troops were trained on identifying signs of distress.

Last month the deaths of 17 soldiers were either confirmed or suspected to be suicides, up from 13 in April and 13 in March, the new numbers revealed.

The Army said the total number of potential or confirmed suicides since January stands at 82. Last year the Army recorded 133 suicides, the most ever.

Earlier this year, Army officials saw the suicide numbers moving up, and by February said the service was on track for a record year for suicides.

Only one of the 17 in May has been confirmed as a suicide, while the others remain under investigation and are listed as "potential suicides," according to the latest statistics.

For April, the Army reported eight potential and five confirmed suicides.

The Army initially classifies a death as "potential suicide" or "confirmed suicide" and moves the numbers between categories after an investigation into the death is complete, according to Army officials.

Last month, Fort Campbell, Kentucky, home to the 101st Airborne Division, held a three-day "suicide stand-down training event" -- the second one at the base this year -- after the base recorded 11 suspected or confirmed suicides between January and May.

Units of the 101st have deployed to Iraq and Afghanistan several times since the September 11, 2001, terrorist attacks on the United States, and have experienced a good deal of combat and the related stress that comes with those deployments.

Thousands of 101st Airborne troops are currently in Afghanistan.

In January the Army implemented a service-wide effort to combat the problem, including a stand-down for all 1.1 million soldiers in which the troops were trained on identifying signs of distress in the ranks, and were charged with getting help for their comrades.

"We have got to do better," said Army Vice Chief of Staff Gen. Peter W. Chiarelli in a statement released Thursday.

"It's clear we have not found full solutions to this yet. But we are trying every remedy and seeking help from outside agencies that are experts in suicide prevention. There isn't a reasonable suicide prevention tool out there the Army won't potentially employ," he said.

Fort Hood, Texas, the largest base in the United States, is home to the 4th Infantry Division, which also has seen multiple deployments to Iraq and Afghanistan. Base commander Lt. Gen. Rick Lynch identified one major stress problem there: Soldiers were working long hours and not spending time with their families between deployments.

Lynch made "focus on the family" a key part of Fort Hood's environment. He insists that every soldier on a day schedule leave work in time to be home for dinner by 6 p.m. On Thursday, many are told to leave by 3 p.m. so they can have the afternoon with the family. And no one at Fort Hood works weekends unless Lynch signs off on it.

The steps appear to be working. Although the base has recorded two suicides since the start of the year, that is well below many other major Army bases.

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