The Pentagon reported in May that 265 active-duty servicemembers killed themselves last year, continuing a trend of unusually high suicide rates that have plagued the U.S. military for at least seven years.
The number of suicides among troops was 145 in 2001 and began a steady increase until more than doubling to 321 in 2012, the worst year in recent history for servicemembers killing themselves.
The suicide rate for the Army that year was nearly 30 suicides per 100,000 soldiers, well above the national rate of 12.5 per 100,000 for 2012.
Military suicides dropped 20% the year after that, and then held roughly steady at numbers significantly higher than during the early 2000s. The 265 suicides last year compares with 273 in 2014 and 254 in 2013. By contrast, from 2001 through 2007, suicides never exceeded 197.
"Suicide prevention remains a top priority, and the Department will continue its efforts to reduce deaths by suicide among its servicemembers," said Marine Lt. Col. Hermes Gabrielle, a Pentagon spokeswoman. "Reducing suicide risk entails creating a climate that encourages servicemembers to seek help, reducing access to lethal means and broadening communication and awareness to servicemembers and their families."
Among efforts by the military to combat suicide was a $50 million, long-term study by the Army that eventually produced algorithms for predicting what group of soldiers is most likely to commit suicide. The Department of Veterans Affairs has embraced the science and will soon launch a pilot program for helping its therapists concentrate efforts on those veterans with strong self-destructive tendencies.
The increase in suicide in the military was driven largely by the Army, where suicides rose sharply from 45 in 2001 to 165 in 2012. The Army reported 120 suicides last year, the same as in 2013 and down from 124 in 2014.
Data released Friday also show that suicides among reserve troops — reservists in the Army, Navy, Air Force and Marine Corps and the National Guard — were 210 last year. That is an increase from 170 suicides in 2014 but down from 220 suicides in 2013.