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Suicide 'epidemic' in Army: July was worst month, Pentagon says

Even as the Afghanistan war winds down, suicides among troops are on the rise. Among all branches, the number is up 22 percent from a year ago, and July was the Army's worst month.

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Cheryl Ecker wears a bracelet made from the laces of her son Michael's army boots in Champion, Ohio, in April. On a warm summer afternoon in Champion, Michael Ecker, a 25-year-old Iraq war veteran, called out to his father from a leafy spot in their backyard. Then, as the two stood just steps apart, Michael saluted, raised a gun to his head and pulled the trigger.

Jason Cohn/Reuters

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It is perhaps the greatest source of frustration and heartache within the US military, even as the war in Afghanistan winds down: the continuing rise of the suicide rate among troops. 

July was the worst month on record since the Army began tracking suicide rates: 38 soldiers took their own lives, according to figures released Thursday by the Pentagon.

Trying to figure out how to arrest those numbers has been the ongoing quest of military officials for years.

Secretary of Defense Leon Panetta shared his frustration over the force’s inability to do so in June, during a suicide prevention conference that called for emphasizing the “mental fitness” of troops as ardently as their “physical fitness.”

Even so, Mr. Panetta lamented that military suicides “continue to move in a troubling and tragic direction.”

So far in 2012, the number of suicides among active-duty military personnel in all branches is up 22 percent compared with the same time last year. In 2011, a total of 301 troops took their lives. This year’s total may reach as many as one death per day from suicide.

“That is an epidemic,” Mr. Panetta told the House Armed Services Committee (HASC) last month. “Something is wrong.” 

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