WASHINGTON — Suicides in the active-duty military increased in the first three months of 2023 compared to the same time last year, according to a newly released Pentagon report.
The Defense Suicide Prevention Office revealed in its quarterly report that the overall number of active-duty suicides — 94 — from January through March was up 25% compared to the number of troops — 75 — who took their own lives in the first three months of 2022.
“Every death by suicide is a tragedy,” according to the report. “Data includes all known or suspected suicides (both confirmed and pending) as of March 31, 2023.”
The Army had the greatest increase in suicide deaths, from 37 to 49. The Marine Corps increased from eight to 14. The Air Force had one additional suicide compared to 2022 and there was no change for the Navy or Space Force, the Defense Department report states.
The 94 active-duty suicides are the most that the military has seen since 97 were reported in the second quarter of 2021. Among reserve troops and the National Guard, the report said suicide figures did not change between the first quarter of 2022 and the same period this year.
Pentagon data have shown a rise in military suicides in the past decade, including a significant spike in 2020 during the coronavirus pandemic, and the Defense Department has spent millions of dollars on efforts to try to prevent them.
In May, the department enacted the long-awaited Brandon Act to let troops seek mental health services confidentially and any time that they need it. It’s named after Navy Petty Officer 3rd Class Brandon Caserta, who committed suicide in 2018. According to Defense Department data, there were almost 29 suicides per 100,000 troops in 2020 — up from 17.5 per 100,000 in 2010. That figure fell to 24.3 per 100,000 in 2021, but it still represented a serious uptick in suicides compared to most of the 2000s and 2010s.
“There is still a gradual increasing trend for suicide in the military over a 10-year period, and we need to see a sustained long-term reduction in suicide rates to know if we’re really making progress,” Beth Foster, executive director of the Pentagon’s Force Resiliency Office, said when the 2021 Annual Report on Suicide in the Military came out in the fall.
The Defense Suicide Prevention Office was created by a Pentagon task force in 2011 to find more effective suicide prevention methods. Earlier this year, the Pentagon’s Suicide Prevention and Response Independent Review Committee, after studying the problem for a year, made several recommendations, including restricting troops’ access to firearms, imposing waiting periods for gun and ammunition purchases and raising the minimum age for buying both to 25. Firearms are used in about two-thirds of all active-duty military suicides, according to the Defense Department. The Pentagon is reviewing the recommendations.
The second quarter ended June 30 and the Defense Suicide Prevention Office traditionally doesn’t issue an updated suicide report covering that period until October. The Pentagon’s comprehensive yearly study on military suicides also is typically released in October. This year’s will analyze 2022.
“The numbers presented in this report are preliminary and subject to change as previously unknown suicide cases are reported and some known cases are further investigated,” the four-page report states. “Caution should be used when making comparisons across groups and/or interpreting changes in suicide counts across time.”
In addition to Pentagon-wide programs, each of the military services has its own suicide program designed to provide help for troubled troops. Further, the national suicide prevention hotline was streamlined last year and became available by dialing 988. Pressing “1” after calling the number takes callers to the Veterans Crisis Line. Service members and veterans can also text 838255 or visit VeteransCrisisLine.net for help.