WASHINGTON, July 30 (UPI) -- The U.S. Army cannot reduce its suicide rate by screening out recruits who might become suicide risks, Gen. Peter Chiarelli said Friday.
Chiarelli, the Army vice chief of staff, held a news conference at the Pentagon to discuss a new report on military suicide. He commissioned the report after the suicide rate among soldiers exceeded that among civilians for the first time since the Vietnam era.
The National Institute of Mental Health said screening intensively enough to prevent two suicides a year would mean the Army would not meet its recruiting goals, he said. It would also screen out many people who might make fine soldiers.
"You would be denying a whole bunch of folks the opportunity to serve their country in the Army, and you would have very little effect on your suicide rate," Chiarelli said.
While the increased suicide rate has been blamed on repeated deployments in Iraq and Afghanistan, Chiarelli said soldiers are most likely to take their own lives in their first year in the Army or in the early months of their first overseas deployment. Those who enlist when they are older, often after losing civilian jobs, are three times as likely to kill themselves.
But the general suggested an increase in the suicide rate among more experienced soldiers is a result of the stresses of fighting two wars.