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February 3, 2013

Counting the deaths:Military suicides on the rise

Suicides by military personnel were almost one per day in 2012

METHUEN — A combat veteran’s suicide here Jan. 15 underscores the challenge military branches across the country are facing as men and women return home from service after extended tours of duty.

Veterans groups and advocates said the risk of suicide among veterans has increased over the last few years partly because servicemen and women have served multiple combat tours, and the heavy use of reservists means more service members have families back home. At the same time, mental health services for veterans are overwhelmed.

The man, who died at the National Guard Armory in Methuen, was an active duty sergeant first class in the Massachusetts Army National Guard from Uxbridge and a veteran of two combat tours. He was 50 years old, and married with two children.

Phone calls to the National Guard seeking information about the man’s tours were not returned.

Earlier this month, the Associated Press obtained figures from the U.S. Department of Defense showing 349 active duty military personnel committed suicide last year, the highest number since the Pentagon started closely tracking them in 2001. In Afghanistan, 313 Americans died last year, according to the Pentagon.

“It’s becoming obvious to everyone we’re in a crisis mode here,” said state Rep. Linda Dean Campbell, D-Methuen, who served in the Army along with her husband. “The current statistics are unacceptable. It’s unacceptable for us as a nation and we need to move quicker to address this crisis.”

Cynthia Smith, a spokeswoman for the Pentagon, said she could not provide 2012 statistics because the report has not been released yet, but confirmed the AP’s figures.

The number of suicides began rising in 2006, and jumped from 160 in 2001 to 309 in 2009, according to the Pentagon. Defense officials have struggled to deal with suicides, which outgoing Defense Secretary Leon Panetta and others have called an epidemic. The problem reflects severe strains on military personnel burdened with more than a decade of combat in Afghanistan and Iraq.

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