VIRGINIA BEACH — The military is doing a “stellar job” when it comes to suicide prevention, but it needs to do much more, according to the Episcopal Church’s bishop in charge of military chaplains.
The Right Reverend James Magness said he’s especially disturbed that it will take until the end of this September before the Department of Defense completes a comprehensive inventory of the military’s suicide prevention programs.
“You mean we’ve been going on with the war for 12 years, suicides have been increasing at a growing rate for 12 years and they’re finally starting to notice,” Magness said. “I was, to say the least, absolutely infuriated by this and we ought to be infuriated by it.”
Magness, who is also a retired Navy captain and Vietnam War veteran, spoke at the Virginia Beach Crisis Intervention Team Interfaith Committee “Beacon of Hope” suicide awareness seminar at the Virginia Beach Resort and Conference Center on Tuesday.
The session took place weeks after new Pentagon statistics on suicide were released, lending urgency to Magness’s remarks.
According to the new data, 2012 set the record for the most suicides ever by active duty forces with 349, surpassing the previous record of 310 in 2009. The Army far outpaced the other branches, with 182 suicides, followed by the Navy with 60, the Air Force with 59, and the Marine Corps with 48.
Even more alarming, 349 troops took their own life last year, which exceeds the number who were killed in combat in the Afghanistan War, 295.
In part, Magness blames the prolonged nature of this war, the longest in American history, and the fact that many troops have had to deploy multiple times, both into Afghanistan and Iraq.
“We clearly were not ready for a war of this length,” Magness said. “When we started this war in Afghanistan, we thought it would be over probably within six months was the general understanding. We had no idea it would go on, and going to Iraq and back to Afghanistan, and that we would have as many Guard and Reserve people to prosecute the war. We were not prepared for that, the Guard and the Reserve were not prepared for that, and we’ve been playing catch-up ball ever since.”