Released last week, the report says it is too early to tell whether suicide rates will increase this year compared to last year, when 498 U.S. service members died by suicide. Of those, 344 were active-duty troops. The rate of suicide per 100,000 in their ranks was 25.9 last year, up from 22.1 in 2017.
“The DoD recognizes the potential impact of COVID-19 on the well-being of our Service members and families,” Karin Orvis, director of the Defense Suicide Prevention Office, wrote in the report covering the second quarter of this year. “During this time, we remain dedicated in our efforts to educate the force, support the force, and emphasize social connectedness.”
Located near Savannah, Fort Stewart has increased its suicide prevention training and awareness efforts. At Fort Gordon in Augusta, officials have begun a “Gun Lock Safety” program aimed at keeping firearms out of the hands of vulnerable people.
At Fort Benning, the sprawling base near Columbus, officials are teaching soldiers to identify struggling peers. Benning did not experienced an increase in suicides between the last two fiscal years, said Maj. Gen. Patrick Donahoe, commanding general of the Maneuver Center of Excellence and Benning.
“During this pandemic, the sense of isolation and separation might be overwhelming but nothing is further from the truth,” Donahoe said. “We must remain in contact with our teammates because we are in this together and no one should feel as if they are alone during this pandemic.”
The military is urging people experiencing crises to call the Veterans Crisis Line, which provides 24-hour confidential support for service members and their families, at 1-800-273-8255. Help is also available online at www.veteranscrisisline.net/get-help/chat.