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U.S. military averaging a suicide a day in 2012

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WASHINGTON, D.C. (WTVR) – Suicides are surging among American troops, averaging nearly one a day in 2012, the fastest pace in the nation’s decade of war.

The 146 suicides for active-duty troops in the first 148 days of the year far outdistanced the U.S. forces killed in action in Afghanistan by nearly 50 percent, that’s according to Pentagon statistics obtained by The Associated Press.

The numbers are a reflection of a military burdened with wartime demands from Iraq and Afghanistan that have taken a greater toll than foreseen 10 years ago.

Because suicides had leveled off in 2010 and 2011, this year’s upswing has caught some officials by surprise.

The reasons for the increase are not fully understood. Among explanations, studies have pointed to combat exposure, post-traumatic stress, misuse of prescription medications and personal financial problems. Army data suggest soldiers with multiple combat tours are at greater risk of committing suicide, although a substantial proportion of Army suicides are committed by soldiers who never deployed.

The active-duty suicide total through May 27 compares to 125 in the same period last year, a 17 percent increase. And it’s more than the 129.6 suicides that the Pentagon had projected for this period based on the trend from 2001-2011. This year’s January-May total is up 24 percent from two years ago, and it is 15 percent ahead of the pace for 2009, which ended with the highest yearly total thus far.

Suicide totals have exceeded U.S. combat deaths in Afghanistan in earlier periods, including for the full years 2008 and 2009.

The suicide pattern varies over the course of a year, but in each of the past five years the trend through May was a reliable predictor for the full year, according to a chart based on figures provided by the Armed Forces Medical Examiner.

The numbers are rising among the 1.4 million active-duty military personnel despite years of effort to encourage troops to seek help with mental health problems. Despite those efforts, many in the military believe that going for help is seen as a sign of weakness.