Army Suicides Rise; Prevention Strategy Changes

A record 60 Americans were killed in Afghanistan last month. The military is also grappling with an equally devastating problem, suicides by service members.

Special Section: Afghanistan

June was not only the worst month ever for American combat deaths in Afghanistan. It was the worst month ever for suicides in the Army, CBS National Security Correspondent David Martin reports.

A total of 32 soldiers, both active duty and reserve, took their own lives in those 30 days. So far this year, 145 soldiers have committed suicide compared with 130 during the first six months of last year, which at the time was the worst on record.

In an attempt to reverse the trend, the Army released a suicide prevention video in which Spc. Joseph Saunders, distraught over the breakup of his marriage, described how he tried to kill himself.

"I put the rifle up to my chin, put it on semi, and I pulled the trigger," Saunders said in the video.

But the gun didn't go off. He was saved by a buddy who had spotted the warning signs.

"He says, 'Yes, I took your firing pin; I took it last night,'" Saunders said in the video. "He says, 'You were worrying me.'"

The new video replaces an earlier attempt at suicide prevention using actors, which Army officials now admit soldiers viewed as a joke. The Army hopes hearing real soldiers talk about their close encounters with suicide will help remove the stigma of admitting to mental problems.

"I laid on the floor of my bedroom while my wife pleaded with me not to take my life," another soldier said in the video.

"If you do this, who benefits?" his wife asked in the video.

Not all the soldiers who committed suicide in June had served in Iraq or Afghanistan, but there is no doubt it is the stress of nine years of war which has driven the Army suicide rate above the national average. Sgt. Coleman Bean had done two tours in Iraq.

"I was so grateful that he come home in one piece that I was willing to say that drinking too much was blowing off a little bit of steam," his mother Linda Bean said.

Until one day in 2008, he killed himself. For Bean, the latest suicide numbers confirm the tragic lesson she learned: for all the efforts the Army is making to prevent suicide, soldiers need more help than they are getting.

"We are going to continue to lose young men and young women and daughters and sons, and I think it's a damn shame," Bean said.

Web Extra: Linda Bean Talks about Her Son

Like the wars themselves, Army suicides seem like a problem with no end in sight.

  • David Martin

    David Martin is CBS News' National Security Correspondent.