Pentagon: Suicides of U.S. Troops Rising in Iraq
Wed January 14, 2004 11:38 AM ET
By Charles Aldinger
WASHINGTON (Reuters) - At least 21 U.S. troops have committed suicide in Iraq, a growing toll that represents one in seven of American "non-hostile" deaths since the war began last March, the Pentagon said on Wednesday.
The Defense Department's top health official said the military plan to deal with "battle stress" in Iraq more aggressively than in past conflicts such as the Vietnam War and the 1991 Gulf War.
"Fighting this kind of war is clearly going to be stressful for some people," Assistant Defense Secretary for Health Affairs Dr. William Winkenwerder told reporters in an interview.
"There have been about 21 confirmed suicides during the past year associated with Operation Iraqi Freedom," Winkenwerder said, adding that 18 were Army troops and three others were in the Navy and Marine Corps.
The suicide toll is probably higher than 21, he added, because some "pending" non-hostile death cases are still being investigated.
A total of 496 U.S. troops have been killed since the war began last March, 343 of them in combat and 153 in non-hostile incidents ranging from accidents to suicide, the Pentagon said.
The 21 suicides so far represent nearly 14 percent of non-hostile deaths, an increase over the proportion of 11 percent as of three months ago when the suicide number totaled 13.
Winkenwerder said in response to questions that the armed services, including the Army, were moving aggressively to deal with stress management in Iraq and among troops returning home. More than 300 troops had been evacuated from Iraq for stress-related problems, a low figure compared with past wars.
On another subject, Winkenwerder said emergency military medical teams stationed in Iraq, combined with new body armor and other protective devices, had resulted in a sharply lower death rate among wounded soldiers compared to past wars.
In addition to the death toll, more than 2,400 troops have been wounded in Iraq since the war began.
"Clearly the body armor helps" in saving lives, Winkenwerder said. But he stressed that emergency medical teams were a key factor in preventing death from blood loss in the "golden hour" after a soldier was wounded.
No matter what you think about the war, you really gotta feel for the grunts over there, most of which are called up reserves torn away from their lives to fight for this shitty cause.