One heart-wrenching statistic that few like to talk about is the toll that combat takes on a soldier’s psyche. Four days ago, the Washington Post announced the apparent suicide of a Navy SEAL Commander in Afghanistan. Today, Stars and Stripes ran an article proclaiming “More Soldier Suicides Than Combat Deaths in 2012.” Here are the statistics from that article:

Through November this year, potentially 303 active-duty, Reserve and National Guard soldiers took their own lives. In Afghanistan 212 soldiers were killed as of Dec. 7.

The trajectory for soldier suicides keeps getting worse.

With a month left in the year, the Army set a grim new record with 177 potential active-duty cases.

Last year, there were 165 confirmed suicides, which was also a record. Among Army Reserve and Guard soldiers potentially 126 took their own lives, up from 118 in all of 2011.

The numbers have increased despite a range of training and awareness programs instituted by the service in the last few years.

The article mentions new measures being discussed in Congress that have to do with removing personal firearms from the homes of “unstable soldiers.” That type of thinking scares me almost as much as the increasing suicide rate because it demonstrates how many of our elected leaders haven’t a clue as to how to address this problem. Removing one tool that could be used to kill oneself isn’t a solution. It’s a precaution, and an incomplete one at that.

There’s an obvious leadership problem in the U.S. Armed Forces when it comes to a) providing mental health training versus physical training, and b) recognizing and treating the early onset of mental health issues. This has to become a priority for whomever the new SECDEF is or I fear that we’ll see these numbers continue to rise.

(Featured Image Courtesy: SOCOM.mil)

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