By LISA CHEDEKEL And MATTHEW KAUFFMAN | Courant Staff Writers
May 30, 2008
The Army is losing its battle to stem suicides among troops serving in Iraq, with a new report showing that 32 soldiers killed themselves in the war zone last year — a record high since the war began five years ago.
The number of suicides in Iraq in 2007 climbed 18 percent from 2006, despite multiple new efforts by military officials to improve training and education in suicide prevention and mental health. Suicide was a leading cause of non-combat deaths in Iraq last year, accounting for nearly one in three non-hostile Army fatalities.
Army officials who released the report Thursday were reluctant to draw a link between combat exposure and suicide, repeating assertions made in past years that failed personal relationships, along with legal and financial problems, were the main factors driving suicides. But they did acknowledge that long and repeated tours of duty were wearing down soldiers' mental resilience.
"Is it the war? It's unquestionable that the high op-tempo, the multiple deployments and long deployments put a real strain on relationships," said Col. Elspeth Ritchie, the Army's top psychiatrist, in a conference call with reporters. "There's also normal, girlfriend-boyfriend breaking up, irrespective of the war, marital difficulties that arise in both civilians and soldiers. ... We're not seeing a clear relationship between conflict increase and suicide."
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