With suicides at an all-time high, the U.S. Army released a report today blaming "a permissive unit environment" for high risk behavior.
"For some, the rigors of service, repeated deployment, injuries and separations from family resulted in a sense of isolation, hopelessness and life fatigue," Army Vice Chief of Staff Peter Chiarelli says in a letter accompanying the report.
In fiscal year 2009, 160 soldiers took their own lives. In addition, there were 1,713 suicide attempts and nearly 17,000 drug and alcohol offenses.
The report cites an increase in waivers granted to new recruits coming into the Army. Since 2004 more 20 percent of new recruits were granted waivers for behavior that otherwise would have kept them out of the service. "Of the 80,403 waivers granted," the report states, "47,478 were granted to individuals with a history of drug, alcohol, misdemeanor crimes, or serious misconduct (defined as a felony.)"
While waivers have been on the rise, the report says, there has been a decrease in soldiers being forced to leave the Army for misconduct. "This has resulted in the retention of over 25,283 soldiers who would have otherwise been separated in previous years," the report states, citing "an increase in tolerance, if not acceptance of high risk behavior."
Commanders may overlook misconduct when they are preparing their units for deployment to Iraq and Afghanistan, an Army official told reporters in a background briefing this morning. "When you go to deploy you want every soldier you can get," he said.
"We know that we are strained and stressed, but it's a highly capable force," the official said. The Army report contains 240 recommendations to get more counseling and mental health services to soldiers. "Just like (physical) fitness we're going to go after mental fitness," an Army official said.
Marijuana use is on the rise among soldiers, the report states, even as retention of multiple drug offenders continues. "3,000 soldiers are expected to test positive for the second or third time next year."Watch David Martin's Report on Army Suicides Below