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After combat, suicide top killer of Marines

By Gunnery Sgt. Bill Lisbon | | March 11, 2010

According to the latest report released by the Corps, more Marines are killing themselves than die in on- or off-duty accidents, making suicide the second leading cause of death after combat.

In January, seven active duty Marines committed suicide, after a record-high 52 killed themselves in 2009, reported the Corps’ suicide prevention program manager in a February report.

The report also detailed the number of suicide attempts – 164 last year and 20 in January alone.

“The number of Marines who have died by suicide in recent years is shocking and unacceptable,” Commandant of the Marine Corps Gen. James T. Conway told the Senate Armed Services Committee on Feb. 25.

In contrast, one Marine died in an automobile accident in January and 10 were killed on the battlefield the same month.

Since Oct. 1, 2009, 21 Marines committed suicide, while 13 died in off-duty private vehicle accidents and three died in other off-duty incidents. Six Marines died in on-duty aviation mishaps and three were killed in on-duty ground accidents. At least 38 Marines died in combat.

The report, prepared by Cmdr. Aaron D. Werbel, the Corps’ suicide prevention program manager, also provided demographic information, which show January’s suicides varying in method and spanning ranks, ages and deployment history. However, most were married and Caucasian and all were male.

Four died from gunshots, one from hanging, one from an overdose and one from suffocation.

Four were noncommissioned officers, two were staff NCOs and one was an officer.

One was between the ages of 18-24, three were 25-29, two were 30-39 and one was more than 40 years old.

Five of the Marines were married, two were single. Five were white, one black and one Hispanic, according to the report.

Four had deployed in support of operations in Iraq or Afghanistan, the other three did not.

The Corps’ studies have shown that regardless of duty station, deployment or duty status, the primary stressors associated with Marine suicides are problems in romantic relationships, physical health, work-related issues, such as poor performance and job dissatisfaction, and pending legal or administrative action, said Conway.

The statistics do not support popular misconceptions that suicides are directly related to combat deployments or post-traumatic stress disorders. Of the 52 suicides in 2009, 36 had deployed to a combat zone, though the report did not specify if any had been in under fire. In 2008, 29 of the 42 suicides were deployed, as did 18 of the 33 deaths in 2007.

“Although it is reasonable to assume that one or more deployments may cause an increase in suicides, to date, we have been unable to establish a direct correlation between deployments and suicides,” said Conway.

Last year in Yuma, Pfc. Benito B. Benitez, 21, an AV-8B Harrier engine mechanic assigned to Marine Attack Squadron 311, committed suicide by shooting himself, said Clint Norred, Yuma Police Department spokesman. Benitez, who took his own life on July 9, 2009, in his off-base apartment, never deployed.

Similar to the alarming spike in motorcycle-related deaths in 2008, the commandant has directed the Corps to attack the problem.

“This issue has my personal attention, and we have multiple programs at work to reverse this trend,” said Conway.

In March 2009, Corps leaders directed all Marines to attend suicide prevention training after the 2008 statistics revealed the highest suicide rate since 1995.

Then, to ensure leaders closest to the troops were equipped to prevent suicide, every NCO in the Marine Corps was required to receive additional training by Oct. 30, 2009.

In December 2009, the Department of Defense also began requiring the all the services to report all verified suicide attempts in addition to suicides, as the 2009 suicide rates among all services were among the highest levels in the past decade.

Additional suicide prevention information is available at the suicide prevention program’s Web site http://www.usmc-mccs.org/suicideprevent.

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