News Releases

Senator Murray Asks Sec. Gates What More Must be Done after Record Suicide Numbers Revealed

Jan 31 2008

As White House hints that troop cuts will only be temporary, Murray points to record suicide statistics as proof that extended deployments continue to take toll

(Washington, D.C.) – Today, U.S. Senator Patty Murray (D-WA) wrote to Defense Secretary Robert Gates following reports that Army suicides increased by nearly 20 percent in 2007. The statistics were based on an internal Army report that put the total number of suicides last year at 121. That internal report also showed that the number of attempted suicides and self-inflicted injuries has dramatically increased since the start of the Iraq War.

Senator Murray first drew attention to these record numbers last month after DoD shared similar Army suicide information with her office – Read More

The suicide statistics come amid suggestions by the White House that further troop cuts may only be temporary – Read More. In today's letter, Senator Murray seeks to shed more light on the strain soldiers are facing by requesting information on how many suicides have been committed by Army soldiers that have served multiple deployments. 

The full text of Murray's letter follows:

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January 31, 2008 

The Honorable Robert M. Gates
Secretary of Defense
1000 Defense Pentagon
Washington, DC 20310-1000

Dear Secretary Gates: 

I wrote you on December 21, 2007 regarding the Department of Defense’s suicide prevention programs and its efforts to address the stigma regarding mental health care. Under Secretary of Defense David Chu responded to my letter by enumerating the many programs the military has implemented and is working on for servicemembers, reservists and their families. 

While I appreciate the attention and resources the military has recently invested in the critical issue of mental health care, today’s reports of an increased number of army suicides is incredibly disturbing.  

News reports today indicate that suicides among active-duty soldiers reached their highest level on record in 2007.  The reports state that 121 soldiers took their own lives last year, nearly 20 percent more than in 2006 and that the number of attempted suicides and self-inflicted injuries has dramatically increased since the start of the Iraq War.

According to the Washington Post, the information cited in these news reports is contained in a draft internal Army study.   I respectfully request to be briefed on that report and a copy of the final report upon its completion. 

As you know it is widely acknowledged that repeated deployments place increased stress on servicemembers.  According to Colonel Elspeth Ritchie, the psychiatry consultant to the Army Surgeon General and the author of the internal study, the length of overseas deployments does play a role in military suicide and attempted suicide.  David Rudd, the chairman of the Department of Psychology at Texas Tech University and a former Army psychologist, was quoted as saying that the Army’s suicide rates pose “real questions about whether you can have an army this size with multiple deployments.”

Some members of the Joint Chiefs of Staff are concerned that prolonged and repeated deployments are putting the overall health of servicemembers at risk.  To that end, I would also like to request any information you can provide, from the internal study or otherwise, on the number of servicemembers who committed suicide last year that had served multiple deployments.

As the Secretary of the Defense in charge of the well-being of the military I would like to know if you share these concerns and what steps you are taking to address the psychological impact of repeated deployments.

The Administration has recently announced an increase in the number of troops being deployed to Afghanistan.  And over the past week both the President and White House officials have indicated that a reduction of troops in Iraq may only be temporary.  

The Administration and Congress are currently working on expanding the size of the military.  As you work on this expansion while continuing current operations, how are you addressing the psychological health and suicide rate within the military?

I look forward to working with you to maintain a strong, healthy and trained military force especially as you and the Department of Defense work to meet the physical and mental health needs of our men and women in uniform. 

I look forward to hearing from you on theses issues and working with you to ensure that these critical issue are addressed.

Sincerely,

                                                                     
Patty Murray 
United States Senator