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Pols late to the game on military mental health

It's hard to impeach US Representative Patrick Kennedy's call this week to boost mental-health supports for those in the military, but such efforts would have been more beneficial when Kennedy and countless other lawmakers were supporting the Bush administration's march to war in Iraq.

It was not hard to anticipate, after all, that the conflict would leave a legacy of soldiers afflicted with post-traumatic stress disorder, among other consequences.

Meanwhile, there's this report:

WASHINGTON (Reuters) - The number of suicides in the U.S. Army rose last year to the highest level since the Gulf War, with almost a third in war zones, according to data released by the military on Thursday.

The Army reported 99 confirmed suicides in 2006, up from 87 in 2005. The Army also listed two additional deaths last year as suspected suicides that have not yet been confirmed by the military's medical examiner.

The Army said failed relationships, legal and financial issues, and "occupational/operational issues" led to the suicides.

Viewed in the context of the total population of U.S. soldiers, the Army recorded 17.3 suicides per 100,000 soldiers in 2006, including the two deaths still pending confirmation. That is up from 12.8 suicides per 100,000 soldiers in 2005.

Last year, 30 of the 99 confirmed suicides occurred in war zones, according to the data.

So far this year, 44 soldiers have committed suicide, including 17 in either Iraq or Afghanistan, the Army said.

The number of suicides in 2006 marked the highest level since 1991, the time of the Gulf War, when the Army recorded 102 soldier suicides.

More than 1.5 million U.S. troops have deployed to Iraq and Afghanistan since 2001. The Army, the largest branch of the U.S. military, has been particularly stressed by multiple and extended deployments.

The suicide data follows a string of studies showing an increase in mental health problems among soldiers and other U.S. troops. According to those studies, including a Pentagon assessment, the military has not provided adequate mental health resources to its service members.

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