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Air Force suicides rise to highest level in three decades

Air Force suicides rise to highest level in three decades
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Suicide rates among active-duty Air Force members reached a 30-year high in 2019, according to unpublished data obtained by The Associated Press.

The Air Force reported 84 suicides among active-duty members last year, up from 60 the year before. In the previous five years, the number of suicides fluctuated between 60 and 64. 

“Suicide is a difficult national problem without easily identifiable solutions that has the full attention of leadership,” Lt. Gen. Brian Kelly, the Air Force’s deputy chief of staff for manpower, personnel and services, told the AP.

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The information provided to the AP is preliminary data that is subject to change once the findings are published. Air Force Magazine published a story this month claiming that 137 members of the Air Force died by suicide, though it’s unclear what the breakdown is of active-duty members and reserve corps. 

In 2018, the Department of Defense reported a total of 541 confirmed or pending suicide deaths among active-duty service members throughout all branches of the military, resulting in a rate of 24.8 suicide deaths per 100,000 active-duty members. 

In July, Gen. David Goldfein, the Air Force chief of staff, went public with concerns over suicide rates, which by that point in the summer had reached 79 for the year.

In a letter sent to commanders, Goldfein said suicide is “an adversary that is killing more of our Airmen than any enemy on the planet.” 

Kelly said in a statement to The Hill, "The Department of the Air Force has been and continues to pursue immediate, mid-term, and long-range suicide prevention initiatives for the Total Force that focus on connections between individuals, units, and Air Force family; protections in environments, services, and policies; detection of risk in individuals and units; and equipping the Total Force and family members to mitigate risk and increase resilience."

"Suicide is a difficult national problem without easily identifiable solutions that has the full attention of leadership," he added.