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Letters to the Editor
Suicide Rates in Military
Psychiatric News
Volume 45 Number 9 page 29-29

In his letter in the February 5 issue, Dr. Wayne Weisner gave invaluable comments on military psychiatry from the time of the Korean War. But the issue, I fear, is not that simple. Suicide rates in the military began to rise well before the commencement of the wars in Afghanistan and Iraq.

I was chief of psychiatry at the hospital at Fort Benning, Ga., from 1995 to 1998. During the first year, there were seven suicides among active-duty personnel. With strong command interest and intense suicide-awareness training, that number was reduced in the following two years. Nevertheless, the consensus among commanders and medical staff throughout the Army was that if such training slacked off, the suicide rate would rise again. Our assessment then was that most of the suicides were, sadly, more closely associated with cluster B character traits than with anything else. A few were murder-suicides. The increasing trend was, in turn, felt to be a reflection of evolving character traits in the general population.

In any event, a military draft is not likely to resolve the issue of repeated deployments. True, draftees might be serving only for a single combat tour. Yet the backbone of the Army consists of professional officers and noncommissioned officers, who would still be required, during protracted wars, to return again and again to the combat zones.

JAMES SPINELLI, M.D.
Columbia, S.C.

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