After nine years of war, the U.S. Army is showing signs of stress because of repeated deployments and inadequate support for soldiers when they return, according to a blunt internal report released today. It blasts the Army's leadership for failing to recognize the problem.
The figures in recent years are staggering.
The number of soldiers committing suicide has increased since 2004, surpassing civilian rates in 2008. Use of prescription drugs has tripled in the past five years; prescription amphetamines use has doubled between 2006 and 2009. One third of soldiers take at least one prescription drug and 14 percent of soldiers are on some form of powerful painkiller.
Crime is rising every year as well. Each year has seen an increase of 5,000 misdemeanors over the previous year, meaning soldiers are expected to commit around 55,000 such crimes in 2010. Sexual offenses have tripled since 2003. Domestic abuse is up 177 percent in the past six years.
Non-combat deaths among the force have increased steadily since 2001 to the point where the report says that in 2009 more soldiers died as a result of accidents and "high risk behavior" than at war.
"Simply stated, we are often more dangerous to ourselves than the enemy," the report says.
The scathing assessment, commissioned by the Vice Chief of Staff of the Army Gen. Peter Chiarelli, blames Army leadership for failing to realize the deteriorating trend.
"The Army realized too late that there was a very serious problem," it says.
The study also faults Army leaders for failing to enforce discipline after violations, leading to repeat offenders whose problems spiral out of control.
"Soldiers are taking more and more risks, and gaps in policies are allowing it to happen. Ultimately, it poses the question: 'Where has the Army's leadership in garrison gone?'" the report asks, using the term for the period when soldiers are stationed at home between deployments.
While noting that Army service, particularly during a time of war when a soldier is almost sure to see combat, attracts individuals more prone to what it terms high-risk behavior, the study says the problems are exacerbated by inadequate leadership and screening of troops. It suggests leaders are focusing only on preparing soldiers for their next deployment too quickly without allowing them sufficient time to reset after time in war.
In fact, the report says the Army's current ratio of one year deployed and two at home is inadequate, suggesting that soldiers need at least three years at home before going off again to war to properly prepare.
The report suggests that the increasing suicide rates in the Army are due in part to inadequate attention from leaders and fellow soldiers. Nearly a third are the result of drug or alcohol abuse.
Of 1,038 non-combat soldier deaths between 2006 and 2009, the report found that 88 percent were due to high-risk behavior. Of that figure, 46 percent involved drug or alcohol use at the time of death and 20 percent were due to overdose.
Nearly 80 percent of Army suicides take place in the United States, most typically among married 23-year-old, caucasian, junior-enlisted males who have deployed at least once, according to the study.