U.S. troops are out of Iraq and major operations are winding down in Afghanistan, but death continues to stalk the ranks of American servicemen and women. Instead of being killed by enemy fire, soldiers are taking their own lives.
Suicide now kills more members of the U.S. military than armed conflict or roadside bombs. There were 38 military suicides in July, the worst month since the Army began keeping detailed records in 2009. In June, 26 active-duty personnel killed themselves.
No reliable explanations define why suicide is up in the military, but it is reasonable to assume that the stress of multiple deployments and disruptions to life, marriages, and careers have taken a toll. Yet soldiers who have never been deployed are killing themselves too.
The Army long since has gotten over its squeamishness about acknowledging mental-health issues among its troops. Today, military personnel are encouraged to seek help both on base and in civilian life rather than go it alone.
Soldiers are stoic by nature, but some battles are impossible to fight and win without help. The stigma may be gone, but old habits are hard to break.
The Army has committed $50 million to finding the root of the surge in suicides and developing strategies to deal with it. As military threats recede, the biggest threat to American lives remains the enemy within.