Army reports suicides down, but violent crimes up

January 19, 2012 - 3:05 PM

WASHINGTON (AP) — The number of suicides among soldiers has been leveling off but there's been a dramatic jump in domestic violence, sex crimes and other destructive behavior in a force that has been stressed by a decade of war, a new Army report said Thursday.

"There's a lot of good news in this report, but there's also some bad news," Army Vice Chief of Staff Gen. Peter Chiarelli told a Pentagon press conference. "We know we've got still a lot of work to do."

Suicides among soldiers in the active duty, Guard and Reserve totaled 278 last year, down 9 percent from 2010.

"I think we've at least arrested this problem and hopefully will start to push it down," Chiarelli said.

But violent sex crimes and domestic violence have increased more than 30 percent since 2006 and child abuse by 43 percent.

"After 10 years of war with an all-volunteer force, you're going to have problems that no one could have forecasted before this began," he said.

Chiarelli was releasing a 200-page report for commanders, health care providers and other military leaders and meant to assess the physical and mental health condition of the force, disciplinary problems, and any gaps in how the Army deals with them.

It follows up on a 2010 report that said the Army was failing some soldiers by missing signs of trouble or by looking the other way as commanders tried to keep up with tight deployment schedules needed to fight in both Iraq and Afghanistan.

Chiarelli said commanders are now getting more troops into substance abuse programs; are kicking more out of the service for misconduct, and are barring others with alcohol and drug convictions from joining in the first place.

Other details from the report:

— Calling post-traumatic stress disorder an epidemic, it estimates that there could be 472,000 service members with the condition, half of them in the Army.

—Some 24,000 soldiers were referred to substance abuse programs in the 2011 budget year, ended in September.

—The Army had over 126,000 diagnosed cases of traumatic brain injury from 2000 to 2010. That included more than 95,000 mild cases such as concussions, 20,000 moderate cases and more than 3,500 in which there were severe, penetrating injuries.

Chiarelli said the military has taken "a huge step forward" with new screening procedures for troops who get concussions — a frequent injury in wars where makeshift bombs have been insurgents' weapons of choice. Troops are now taken off the battlefield and held off for days or weeks until they recover, he said.