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Army's suicide rate at 26-year high

Report says about a quarter occurred during war service

WASHINGTON -- Army soldiers committed suicide last year at the highest rate in 26 years, and more than a quarter did so while serving in Iraq and Afghanistan, according to a military report.

The report, obtained by the Associated Press ahead of its scheduled release today, found there were 99 confirmed suicides among active duty soldiers in 2006, up from 88 the previous year and the highest since 102 suicides in 1991.

In a service of more than a half million soldiers, the 99 suicides amounted to a rate of 17.3 per 100,000 -- the highest in the past 26 years, the report said. The average rate over those years has been 12.3 per 100,000.

The suicide rate for those serving in the wars stayed about the same, 19.4 per 100,000 in 2006, compared with 19.9 in 2005.

"Iraq was the most common deployment location for both [suicides] and attempts," the report said.

The 99 suicides included 28 soldiers deployed to the two wars and 71 who weren't. About twice as many women serving in Iraq and Afghanistan committed suicide as did women not sent to war, the report said.

Preliminary numbers for the first half of this year indicate the number of suicides could decline across the service this year but increase among troops serving in the wars, officials said.

The increases for 2006 occurred as Army officials worked to set up new and stronger programs for providing mental health care to a force strained by the prolonged war in Iraq and global counterterrorism war, which is entering its sixth year.

Failed personal relationships, legal and financial problems, and the stress of their jobs were factors motivating the soldiers to commit suicide, according to the report.

"In addition, there was a significant relationship between suicide attempts and number of days deployed" in Iraq, Afghanistan, or nearby countries where troops are participating in the war effort, it said. The same pattern seemed to hold true for those who succeeded in killing themselves.

There also "was limited evidence to support the view that multiple . . . deployments are a risk factor for suicide behaviors," it said.

About a quarter of those who killed themselves had a history of at least one psychiatric disorder. Of those, about 20 percent had been diagnosed with a mood disorder such as bipolar disorder or depression, and 8 percent had been diagnosed with an anxiety disorder, including post-traumatic stress disorder, one of the signature injuries of the conflict in Iraq.

Firearms were the most common method of suicide. Those who attempted suicide but didn't succeed more often tended to take overdoses and cut themselves.

The Army said the information was compiled from reports collected as part of its suicide prevention program, reports required for all "suicide-related behaviors that result in death, hospitalization, or evacuation" of the soldier. It can take considerable time to investigate a suicide and, the Army said in addition to the 99 confirmed suicides last year, there are two deaths suspected as suicides that are being investigated.