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Pentagon confirms growing suicide problem among US active duty forces

US Rep. Ilhan Omar (D-MN) (L) talks with Speaker of the House Nancy Pelosi (D-CA) during a rally with fellow Democrats before voting on H.R. 1, or the People Act, on the East Steps of the US Capitol on March 08, 2019 in Washington, DC. (AFP photo)
US soldiers participate in a military tactical demonstration during "Air Power Day" preview at US Osan Air Base in Pyeongtaek on September 20, 2019. (Photo by AFP)

The rate of suicide among active duty service members has increased significantly over the past five years, according to a Pentagon report released on Thursday.

The report comes after three US sailors assigned to the aircraft carrier George H.W. Bush died by apparent suicide last week, incidents the Navy has said are separate and unrelated.

The Pentagon's first annual suicide report said that the rate of suicide deaths among active duty service members was 24.8 per 100,000 service members, up from just under 20 per 100,000 in 2013. In 2018, 541 service members died by suicide, the report said, adding that the most common method of suicide was with firearms.

"We are not going in the right direction," Elizabeth Van Winkle, director of the office of force resiliency, told reporters.

During the briefing, the Pentagon took the unusual step of advising reporters on how to cover suicides, such as not calling it a "growing problem" or "skyrocketing" because it could cause contagion.

US Defense Secretary Mark Esper said on Wednesday that the military was caught up in "what some call a national epidemic of suicide among our youth."

"I wish I could tell you we have an answer to prevent further, future suicides in the Armed Services," Esper said. "We don't."


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