TEHRAN (Press Shia) – Suicides in the US Military have increased by as much as 20% this year compared to the same period in 2019.

– World news –

Some incidents of violent behavior have also spiked as service members struggle under COVID-19, war-zone deployments, national disasters and civil unrest.

While the data is incomplete and causes of suicide are complex, Army and Air Force officials say they believe the pandemic is adding stress to an already strained force, CBS reported.

And senior Army leaders – who say they’ve seen about a 30% jump in active duty suicides so far this year – told AP that they are looking at shortening combat deployments. Such a move would be part of a broader effort to make the wellbeing of soldiers and their families the Army’s top priority, overtaking combat readiness and weapons modernization.

The Pentagon refused to provide 2020 data or discuss the issue, but Army officials said discussions in Defense Department briefings indicate there has been up to a 20% jump in overall military suicides this year. The numbers vary by service. The active Army’s 30% spike – from 88 last year to 114 this year – pushes the total up because it’s the largest service. The Army Guard is up about 10%, going from 78 last year to 86 this year. The Navy total is believed to be lower this year.

Army leaders say they can’t directly pin the increase on the virus, but the timing coincides.

“I can’t say scientifically, but what I can say is – I can read a chart and a graph, and the numbers have gone up in behavioral health related issues,” Army Secretary Ryan McCarthy said in an AP interview.

Pointing to increases in Army suicides, murders and other violent behavior, he added, “We cannot say definitively it is because of COVID. But there is a direct correlation from when COVID started, the numbers actually went up.”

Preliminary data for the first three months of 2020 show an overall dip in military suicides across the active duty and reserves, compared to the same time last year. Those early numbers, fueled by declines in Navy and Air Force deaths, gave hope to military leaders who have long struggled to cut suicide rates. But in the spring, the numbers ticked up.

“COVID adds stress,” said Gen. Charles Brown, the Air Force chief, in public remarks. “From a suicide perspective, we are on a path to be as bad as last year. And that’s not just an Air Force problem, this is a national problem because COVID adds some additional stressors – a fear of the unknown for certain folks.”

The active duty Air Force and reserves had 98 suicides as of Sept. 15, unchanged from the same period last year. But last year was the worst in three decades for active duty Air Force suicides. Officials had hoped the decline early in the year would continue.

Navy and Marine officials refused to discuss the subject.

Army leaders also said troops have been under pressure for nearly two decades of war. Those deployments, compounded by the virus, hurricane and wildfire response and civil unrest missions, have taken a toll.

The isolation is also taking a toll on veterans, particularly the wounded.

Roger Brooks, a senior mental health specialist at the Wounded Warrior Project, said veterans are reporting increased suicidal symptoms and anxiety. Between April and the end of August, the group saw a 48% jump in referrals to mental health providers and a 10% increase in mental health calls and virtual support sessions, compared to the previous five months.

Brooks said there’s anecdotal evidence that the pandemic has made wounded warriors like amputees feel more isolated, unable to connect as well with support groups. He said injured vets have seen disruptions in medical visits for pain management and other treatments.

Military leaders also are encouraging troops to keep a closer eye on their buddies and ensure that those who need help get it.