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A Lethal Problem Afflicts the Air Force

Suicides spike after 5 years of relative stability
By Newser Editors and Wire Services
Posted Feb 8, 2020 1:30 PM CST
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In this Dec. 20, 2019, file photo members of the military attend a ceremony at Andrews Air Force Base, Md.   (AP Photo/Andrew Harnik, File)

(Newser) – Suicides in the active-duty Air Force surged last year to the highest total in at least three decades, even as the other military services saw their numbers stabilize or decline, according to officials and unpublished preliminary data, the AP reports. The reasons for the Air Force increase are not fully understood, coming after years of effort by all of the military services to counter a problem that seems to defy solution and that parallels increases in suicide in the US civilian population. According to preliminary figures, the Air Force had 84 suicides among active-duty members last year, up from 60 the year before. The jump followed five years of relative stability, with the service's yearly totals fluctuating between 60 and 64.

Air Force officials, who confirmed the 2019 total, said they knew of no higher number in recent years. Data and studies previously published by the Pentagon and Air Force show that 64 suicides in 2015 had been the highest total for the Air Force in this century. A 2009 Air Force study said suicides between 1990 and 2004 averaged 42 a year and never exceeded 62. Suicide risk factors are often thought to include combat-related stress, but a 2013 study pointed to numerous other factors, including being male, engaging in heavy or binge drinking, and bipolar disorder. Although only the Air Force saw a major increase last year, all the services have struggled with higher suicides since about 2005-2006, which coincided with exceptionally stressful deployments to Iraq for the Army and Marine Corps.

(Read more suicide stories.)

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