Military suicides grow at sharp rate

(CBS News) One suicide a day. That is the rate of U.S. military personnel taking their own lives just since the first of this year -- more troops lost to suicide than died in combat. It's a sharp increase over last year and it's caught the attention of the Pentagon.

The war in Iraq is over and the war in Afghanistan is winding down, but the pace of military suicides is actually increasing to a record level. Pentagon figures show that as of this past Monday, 154 service members had taken their lives so far in 2012 -- an average of more than one a day and much higher than the 138 killed so far this year in Afghanistan.

At this point in 2011, 130 service members had killed themselves -- in 2010, the number was 123. Pentagon officials had been expecting the number of suicides to level off after seeing the number soar as the intensity of the wars increased.

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

Spc. Carl McCoy survived two tours in Iraq, only to take his own life and shatter the life of his wife Maggie.

Spc. Carl McCoy survived two tours in Iraq, only to take his own life in 2008. The rate of U.S. military personnel ending their own lives is about one suicide a day since 2012.
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"He shot himself in the bathroom [in the house]," she said.

That was 2008, when the Army did not have enough mental health counselors. McCoy had scheduled an appointment with a counselor at Fort Campbell, Kentucky. But that morning. . ..

"They called and cancelled," said Maggie."They didn't have anybody to see him. That was the day before he killed himself."

Since then, the Army has hired more mental health workers and instituted training designed to help troops recognize the warning signs of suicide and remove the stigma of asking for help, which many soldiers still see as a confession of weakness.

Pentagon officials say one possible reason for the unexpected spike in suicides is the poor economy, which has also caused an increase in civilian suicides. The most baffling thing about the number is that nearly half of the suicides are committed by young men and women who have never been to war.

  • David Martin

    David Martin is CBS News' National Security Correspondent.