Shocking numbers in one way:
In 2012, for the first time in at least a generation, the number of active-duty soldiers who killed themselves, 177, exceeded the 176 who were killed while in the war zone. To put that another way, more of America’s serving soldiers died at their own hands than in pursuit of the enemy.
Across all branches of the US military and the reserves, a similar disturbing trend was recorded. In all, 349 service members took their own lives in 2012, while a lesser number, 295, died in combat.
Shocking though those figures are, they are as nothing compared with the statistic to which Busbee technically belongs. He had retired himself from the army just two months before he died, and so is officially recorded at death as a veteran – one of an astonishing 6,500 former military personnel who killed themselves in 2012, roughly equivalent to one every 80 minutes.
It’s also testament to the incredible performance improvements in military medicine. Wounded who, 30 years ago, would definitely die and 10 years ago probably to possibly would now survive.
Leaving aside the human tragedy of this all and just thinking about the numbers. Is this suicide rate actually any different from what used to happen in the past? That is, are we looking at about the normal rate for combat veterans over the last, say, 50 or 80 years? The total number rising because the number of those who have seen combat has risen?
Or is the rate rising as a result of something about modern combat/modern military being different in some manner?
For example, I would assume that the last decade has hugely increased the portion of the military that has seen combat. Gulf I and II saw certain regiments/divisions seeing it, but I would imagine that Iraq post Gulf II and Afghanistan has led to the portion rising to at or perhaps beyond the Vietnam rate of exposure to combat. And I think, but don’t know, that the size of the military has increased in recent years. Even if not as the total establishment number, the passage of people through it has meant a larger number of people all told.
Which leaves a little statistical puzzle.
And one other thing. That total suicide rate doesn’t actually look all that far out of line with the general population. It’s 12 per 100,000 across the total population. Total US military is 2.3 million or so (inc National Guard units and yes, they do see active service these days). We’d expect, from those national numbers, 276 suicides in that number of people. 349 committed suicide. Adjust a bit for the preponderance of young men in the military, the group which usually has a higher suicide rate, and are we actually seeing anything out of the ordinary?