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Persistent U.S. deployments in Iraq and Afghanistan have coincided with a widely documented increase in military suicides.
At a March 16 House Armed Services Committee hearing on the war in Afghanistan, Rep. Tim Ryan, an Ohio Democrat, raised the issue with General David Petraeus, commander of U.S. forces in Afghanistan, as well as Undersecretary of Defense for Policy Michele Flournoy.
"From '05 to '09, we've had 1,100 soldiers commit suicide, one every 36 hours. A report in Navy Times said that 7.3 percent of Army, Navy and Marines have thought about attempting suicide," Ryan said at the hearing.
Ryan, whose district includes an Air Force Reserve base, brought up an important issue. PolitiFact Ohio reviewed the second part of his quote in a separate item, rating it Pants On Fire. This item will focus on his claim about the number of suicides and their frequency.
Ryan’s staff referred us to a 2010 Pentagon report titled "The Challenge and the Promise: Strengthening the Force, Preventing Suicide and Saving Lives," which shows the military’s suicide rate rose from 10.3 per 100,000 service personnel in 2001 to 18.4 per 100,000 in 2009.
The report counts 189 suicides by active duty and reserve component service members in 2005. In 2006, the number rose to 213. It was 224 in 2007, 267 in 2008, and 309 in 2009. That’s a grand total of total of 1,202 suicides over five years, which exceeds the number Ryan cited.
Dividing the 43,824 hours in that period by 1,202 suicides reveals that there was one military suicide every 36.46 hours, a number nearly identical to Ryan’s statistic.
The groups with the highest suicide rates were service members who were male, Caucasian, divorced, under age 25 and those with a GED. The largest U.S. military branch the Army, had the highest number of suicides during those years. It released its own report on the topic last year.
So where does this claim rank on the Truth-O-Meter?
Ryan’s number for actual suicides over a five year period was understated, but not off by enough to distort his underlying point - that suicides among military personnel are a problem that is on the rise. His statistic of one military suicide every 36 hours was also on the mark.
On this point we rate his statement as True.
The New York Times, "Pentagon Report Places Blame for Suicides" by Elisabeth Bumiller, July 29, 2010
McClatchy Newspapers, "Task Force: Military Suicide Prevention Efforts Inadequate" by Barbara Barrett, August 24, 2010
U.S. Army, "Health Promotion, Risk Reduction, Suicide Prevention Report 2010," July 2010
U.S. Department of Defense, "The Challenge and the Promise: Strengthening the Force, Preventing Suicide and Saving Lives; Final Report of the Department of Defense Task Force on the Prevention of Suicide by Members of the Armed Forces," August 2010
Navy Times, "Navy Attempted Suicide Rate Nearly Three Percent" by Kelly Kennedy, Dec. 23, 2009
Project Censored’s Media Freedom International, "Suicides Taking More Lives than War," March 12, 2011
World Socialist Web Site, "Suicide Claims More Military Lives than Afghan War" by James Cogan, January 6, 2010.
U.S. Department of Defense, "2008 Department of Defense Survey of Health Related Behaviors Among Active Duty Military Personnel," Robert M Bray, et. al, September 2009.
Emails from Tim Ryan spokesman Erick Sanchez, April 4-6 2011
Email from Navy Times news editor Jenn Rafael, April 5, 2011
Emails from Pentagon spokeswoman Eileen Lainez, April 5, 2011
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