In a month that an official with Army described as "terrifying," more service members in the U.S. military committed suicide than were killed in combat in Iraq and Afghanistan.
While the news highlights the fact that combat fatalities have dropped to remarkably low rates given the size of military deployments, it also raises the specter of a large number of soldiers who are despondent, depressed, and pschologically under-treated. The ready access to weapons is proving a deadly combination, according to CNN.
The Army has already confirmed seven suicides in January 2009 and investigations of 17 other suspected suicides are under investigation. If they are confirmed, the deaths of 24 soldiers at their own hands would outnumber the 16 combat deaths in Iraq and Afghanistant recorded during the month.
Col. Kathy Platoni, the chief clinical pschologist for the Army and the National Guard said that the harsh winter conditions in the region may have led to the spike. But long and multiple deployments could also be taking their toll on young men and women separated from home and families.
Concern was shared by the group Iraq and Afghanistan Veterans of America, which released a statement in response to the suicide data.
"The suicide numbers released today highlight just how staggering the trend is. In January, we lost more soldiers to suicide than to Al Qaeda. And since the Iraq war began, suicide rates and other signs of psychological injury, like marital strain and substance abuse, have been increasing every single year."