In data compiled by the Defense Department on military suicides, perhaps the most surprising statistic is that between 2008 and 2011, 52% of service members who took their own lives had never been deployed to Afghanistan or Iraq.
That figure, which challenges the popular belief that exposure to war is the primary driver of a surge in suicides, became the basis for an L.A. Times story Sunday.
But another statistic in the story also deserves attention: 524. That is the number of suicides in the military last year. To those who have followed the issue, it may seem like a misprint. The Pentagon recently announced that the 2012 total was 349.
The Defense Department, however, has only tracked suicides of military personnel who were on active duty when they died.
For a more complete tally, The Times went directly to the Army, Navy, Air Force and Marines for the data. That added three suicides to the Defense Department’s figure, bringing the active-duty count for 2012 to 352. More significantly, it added 172 suicides of reservists and National Guard members who were on inactive status at the time of their deaths.
Little is known about the suicides of service members not on active duty. Military researchers say they are compiling and analyzing the demographics of the victims, their deployment histories and other characteristics. The Defense Department has yet to publish their suicide rate.
The Times was able to gather totals for the last four years. In 2009, there were 115 such suicides. That jumped to 177 the next year, dropped slightly to 151 in 2011 before climbing to 172 last year.
The Army accounted for the vast majority of suicides among inactive reservists and National Guard members -- 481 of the four-year total of 615.
Not only is the Army the largest branch of the military, but it has also had the highest suicide rates, at least among active-duty troops.
The reasons remain poorly understood, though it is clear that war is only part of the story.