The War Within: Preventing Suicide in the U.S. Military

The War Within: Preventing Suicide in the U.S. Military

The War Within: Preventing Suicide in the U.S. Military

The War Within: Preventing Suicide in the U.S. Military


Lengthy and multiple tours of duty are exacting a substantial toll on members of the U.S. armed forces. Until 2006, the year for which the most recent national suicide data is available, the suicide rate in the military was lower than among civilians of comparable age, sex, and racial profile. Since then, the military suicide rate has climbed higher, suggesting that this gap is narrowing and, for some services, the rate may actually exceed that of the comparable civilian population.

RAND recently published The War Within: Preventing Suicide in the U.S. Military, which addressed the following questions:

  • What is the suicide rate in the military services and who is at risk for suicide?
  • What is the Department of Defense doing to prevent suicides?
  • How does the science suggest suicides can best be prevented, and how might the military benefit from this science?

Join us to hear these findings and recommendations informed by research conducted in both civilian and military sectors for the Department of Defense.


This chapter presents the most-currently available data on suicide in the U.S. military, along with a discussion of the research challenges particular to epidemiologic investigations of suicide. We did not set out to be comprehensive in our review of the epidemiologic literature on suicide. Rather, we intended only to highlight research findings that we considered relevant to DoD. This chapter deals with such questions of interest to policymakers as what the suicide rate is in the services, whether it differs from that of a comparable segment of the civilian population, how it has changed over time, how it varies between and within the military services, and who is most at risk. Throughout, we place information seen as most pertinent to the military in text boxes to highlight those points.

This chapter presents information in four of the five sections that correspond with four of the five rubrics of epidemiology: quantity, location and variation, causes, and mechanism (Anthony and Van Etten, 1998). The section on quantity deals with the number of U.S. servicemembers who die by suicide, along with information about how the rate in DoD and in each service compares with the suicide rate in the general population of the United States. The section on location and variation provides evidence about how death by suicide among servicemembers varies across demographic characteristics (gender, age, race and ethnicity), geography, over time, and across militaryspecific factors (i.e., rank, component, and deployment). Discussion of causes of suicide reviews relevant correlates and risk factors for suicide: Which factors are associated with suicide among military personnel, and, if possible to determine, which factors increase servicemembers’ risk of dying by suicide? A section on mechanism draws on psychological theory to review the conditions that have been hypothesized to lead to an individual’s decision to take his or her own life. There is a fifth rubric, prevention and control, and we devote Chapter Three entirely to this important domain.

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