Military suicides are up an average of 20% this year over the same period in 2019, according to the Associated Press, citing military officials.
Broken down by service, suicide among active duty Army is up 30%, from 88 last year to 114 this year, while the Army Guard is up 10% from 78 to 86 over the same period.
While the Pentagon would not provide 2020 suicide data, Army officials cites discussions in DoD briefings - and say that while they can't directly attribute the rise to COVID-19, 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 told AP.
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. -Associated Press
"COVID adds stress," said Air Force chief Gen. Charles Brown 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."
There were 98 suicides between active duty Air Force and reserves as of September 15, unchanged from from last year - which was the worst in three-decades for active duty suicides across the branch. In 2018, the Pentagon claimed in a report that the military suicide rate was roughly equivalent to the US general population "after adjusting for the fact that the military is more heavily male and younger than the civilian population."
The 2018 rate for active duty military was 24.8 per 100,000, while the overall civilian rate for that year was 14.2, but the rate for younger civilian men ranged from 22.7 to 27.7 per 100,000, according to the National Institute of Mental Health. -Associated Press
"We know that the measures we took to mitigate and prevent the spread of COVID could amplify some of the factors that could lead to suicide," said the Army's director of resilience programs, James Helis - who said that virus-related isolation, combined with loss of childcare and financial disruptions is putting a strain on military families.
Meanwhile, Army leaders also pointed to stress from the United States being at war for nearly two decades - with deployments being compounded by the virus, along with civil unrest and natural disasters.
According to Army veteran Sergio Alfaro who served for 4.5 years, fears associated with the virus amplified his PTSD and suicidal thoughts.
"It’s definitely something that’s made things a bit more chaotic, trying to plan for the future, do things together," said the former Iraq vet who dealt with daily mortar rounds in Baghdad in 2003. "It's almost like adding more trash on the heap."