Surge in Military Suicides Tops Pentagon's 'Emergency' Issues

Joint chiefs chairman worried about the short-term impact of bringing troops home to troubled families.

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A dramatic surge in troop suicides has become the Pentagon's top "emergency" issue, though the brass doesn't know how to curb the tragedies. Adm. Mike Mullen, the chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, said that while suicides have been on the rise since 2004, the height of the Iraq and Afghanistan wars, they have really jumped recently, forcing he and his top aides to look for a solution.

"The emergency issue for me right now is the suicide issue," he said at a media roundtable breakfast today. Just last week, he added, five Army soldiers took their lives. "It's a very difficult problem. There's not a national solution," he said.

[See photos of U.S. troops in Afghanistan.]

Suicides have always been a problem for the military, but the current war-hardened force is spending more time away from home than ever before and facing mentally stressful situations associated with fighting an urban war and dodging hidden roadside bombs. "I think we're going to see a growth in that before a decline," he said.

What's more, he added, the surge in troops coming home may encounter troubled families when they arrive back home. "I think we're going to see a significant increase in the challenges that we have in terms of our troops and our families because they are going to have some time [together at home] and if things have been pent up or packed in or basically suppressed or sucked up, what ever term you want to use, we're going to see that as well," Mullen said.

Still, he said, his goal is to drop the amount of time the troops spend away from home, returning it to close to a pre-war rate. Over time, he said, that should help lessen the stress troops and military families feel. His goal within a year or two is to "get to a point where we're home twice as long as we are deployed."

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