WASHINGTON — Army soldiers committed suicide in 2007 at the highest rate on record, and the toll is climbing ever higher this year as long war deployments stretch on.
At least 115 soldiers killed themselves last year, up from 102 the previous year, the Army said Thursday. Nearly a third of them died at the battlefront — 32 in Iraq and four in Afghanistan. But 26 percent had never deployed to either conflict.
"We see a lot of things that are going on in the war which do contribute — mainly the longtime and multiple deployments away from home, exposure to really terrifying and horrifying things, the easy availability of loaded weapons, and a force that's very, very busy right now," said Col. Elspeth Ritchie, psychiatric consultant to the Army surgeon general.
Some common factors among those who took their own lives were trouble with relationships, work problems and legal and financial difficulties, officials said.
More U.S. troops also died overall in hostilities in 2007 than in any of the previous years in Iraq and Afghanistan.
Violence increased in Afghanistan with a Taliban resurgence, and U.S. deaths increased in Iraq even as violence there declined in the second half of the year.
Increasing the strain on the force last year was the extension of deployments to 15 months from 12 months, a practice ending this year.
The rate of suicide continues to rise despite a host of efforts the Army has made to improve the mental health of a force under unprecedented stress from the longer-than-expected war in Iraq and the long and repeated tours of duty it has prompted.