US & Canada

Suicides down among US soldiers but violent crimes rise

US soldiers of the 502nd Infantry regiment in Kandahar City, 5 December 2010
Image caption Seriously injured soldiers are now treated at specialised units across the US

US Army suicides are levelling off but rates of domestic violence and sex crimes among soldiers have increased, a report says.

Suicides among active duty soldiers, as well in the National Guard and the Reserve, totalled 278 in 2011, down 9% from 2010.

It was the first decline in four years.

The report also calls post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) an "epidemic", estimating there could be as many as 472,000 troops with the condition.

"There's a lot of good news in this report, but there's also some bad news," Gen Peter Chiarelli told reporters at a Pentagon news conference. "We know we've got still a lot of work to do."

Violent sex crimes and domestic violence have increased more than 30% since 2006 and child abuse by 43%.

Repeat offenders

The findings follow a 2010 report that said the Army was either missing signs that suicidal soldiers were trouble or were looking the other way as commanders tried to keep up with tight deployment schedules in both Iraq and Afghanistan.

Gen Chiarelli said commanders were now getting more soldiers into substance abuse programs, and kicking out more troops for misconduct.

The report also shows an increase in soldiers being brought to hospital for suicidal thoughts.

Image caption "After 10 years of war... you're going to have problems that no-one could have forecasted" said Gen Chiarelli.

"I think we've at least arrested this problem and hopefully will start to push it down," Gen Chiarelli said.

Part of the increase in domestic abuse, the report says, is recidivism from previous offenders. Both domestic and child abuse associated with alcohol has increased since 2006.

Such an increase "may be associated" with research linking high rates of drinking and aggression among veterans suffering from combat-related wounds, injuries and illnesses, according to the Army's findings.

While the report notes that screening and treatment for traumatic brain injury (TBI) has improved, the Army currently has over 126,000 diagnosed cases of traumatic brain injury, 3,500 of them severe, penetrating injuries.

As of mid-2011, there were over 187,000 diagnosed cases of PTSD, but projections of the number of veterans and current soldiers with the disorder were much higher.

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