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Military suicides increase amid COVID-19 pandemic, Pentagon says

Military suicides increase amid COVID-19 pandemic, Pentagon says
An aerial photo of the Pentagon is shown. File Photo by rlw/SPACE IMAGING UPI | License Photo

Sept. 30 (UPI) -- Military suicides were up 15% amid the COVID-19 pandemic last year compared to 2019, according to a Pentagon report released Thursday.

In 2020, 580 troops died by suicide, the Annual Suicide Report Calendar Year 2020 showed, compared to 504 troops in 2019, according to figures by congressional and Defense Department sources USA Today confirmed Wednesday night.

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The Pentagon report also found that the suicide rate increased from 20.3 per 100,000 in 2015 to 28.7 per 100,000 in 2020, and that young, enlisted service members were at highest risk.

"We recognize that the rates are not going in the desired direction and reaffirm our work to reduce suicide rates," the report noted.

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Still, the Department of Defense said in a statement that it did not see a statistical change that would indicate a COVID-19-related increase.

The report listed actions taken since the 2019 ASR to prevent suicide and mitigate the impact of the added strain of the COVID-19 pandemic, including piloting a training video on how to recognize and respond to suicide warning signs on social media, and virtual support efforts.

Other actions included piloting "Resources Exist, Asking Can Help" training to encourage people to access resources, and publishing a "Leaders Suicide Prevention Safe Messaging Guide" to increase effective communication by correcting misconceptions about suicide.

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The department also conducted its first survey to examine attitudes and behaviors about firearm storage and their beliefs about firearms and suicide risk, and said it would use the findings to develop evidence-informed communication tools to prevent suicide.

It also collaborated with the Department of Veteran Affairs and other agencies on a national public health campaign to increase awareness of suicide prevention resources.

The report came out on the last day of September, which is National Suicide Prevention Month.

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"The findings are troubling," the Secretary of Defense Lloyd Austin's statement on the report said. "Suicide rates among our service members and military families are still too high, and the trends are not going in the right direction."

"This is a paramount challenge for our Department," the statement added. "We must redouble our efforts to provide all of our people with the care and the resources they need, to reduce stigmas and barriers to care, and to ensure that our community uses simple safety measures and precautions to reduce the risk of future tragedies. We will continue to work swiftly and urgently, in close collaboration with our partners at the Department of Veteran Affairs."

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