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Suicide rate among active duty troops increases as COVID-19 raises new fears

Suicide rate among active duty troops increases as COVID-19 raises new fears
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The suicide rate among active-duty service members increased in 2019, the Pentagon said Thursday, adding to fears that feelings of isolation due to the coronavirus may push those figures higher.

The Defense Department's second annual report on suicide found there were 342 active-duty suicides last year, a rate of 25.9 per 100,000 service members. The previous year the rate was 24.8, and before that it was 21.9.

Suicide rates in the National Guard and Reserve remained stable in 2019.

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Overall, 498 service members died by suicide last year.

The report comes as the Army worries about the increase in suicides since March, when many people were told to stay home due to COVID-19 and the Pentagon began to limit movement of forces.

The Associated Press first reported that military suicide deaths since early spring were up as much as 20 percent compared with the same period in 2019.

Among Army active-duty troops, that increase was around 30 percent, with 114 suicides as of Aug. 31, compared to 88 last year.

Suicides peaked in July with 35, CNN found.

Following the report’s release, Army Secretary Ryan McCarthyRyan McCarthyOvernight Defense: National Guard says no federal requests for election security help | Dems accuse VA head of misusing resources | Army official links COVID-19 to troop suicides Esper ducks questions on military involvement in election Army secretary: No request for military intervention in election unrest MORE and Army Chief of Staff Gen. James McConville said in a statement that the service is working to improve access to behavioral health care “in the face of additional stress of a pandemic.”

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When asked if COVID-19 is affecting military suicides, Defense Suicide Prevention Office Director Karen Orvis said it was too early to tell.

“The department is closely monitoring the potential impacts of the pandemic on death by suicide within the military population,” she said. “Caution should be used when examining changes in suicide counts across time, as counts do not account for changes in population size or provide enough time for essential investigations to determine cause of death.”

Overall, enlisted men under the age of 30 are of greatest concern, as they accounted for about 61 percent of all suicides last year, Orvis said.

Personally owned firearms, not military issued weapons, were the primary cause of death, she said.

Updated at 6:27 p.m.