In the first 155 days of 2012 there was 154 suicides among active troops, about 50% more than the amount of soldiers killed in action in Afghanistan, according to Pentagon statistics obtained by Associated Press.
The military is also struggling with increased sexual assaults, alcohol abuse, domestic violence and other problems.
Combat exposure, post-traumatic stress, misuse of prescription drugs and personal financial problems have been listed as possible reasons for the increase.
Army data suggest soldiers with multiple combat tours are at greater risk of killing themselves, although a substantial amount of deaths occurred among soldiers who have never been deployed.
The Afghanistan war is set to wind down by the end of 2014, but this year has seen a record number of soldiers killed, and there also have been several scandals involving military misconduct.
The total of 154 suicides so far this year compares to 130 in the same period last year, an 18% increase. This year’s January-May total is up 25% from two years ago, and it is 16% greater than in 2009, which ended with the highest yearly total so far.
Suicide totals also exceeded US combat deaths in Afghanistan in 2008 and 2009.
Kim Ruocco, widow of John Ruocco, a helicopter pilot who killed himself in 2005 between Iraq deployments, said he was unable to seek help.
“He was so afraid of how people would view him once he went for help,” she said in an interview at her home in Boston. “He thought that people would think he was weak, that people would think he was just trying to get out of redeploying or trying to get out of service, or that he just couldn’t hack it. In reality, he was sick. He had suffered injury in combat and he had also suffered from depression and let it go untreated for years.”
Jackie Garrick, head of the newly established Defence Suicide Prevention Office at the Pentagon, said the increase in suicides was worrying, adding that the weak economy could also be to blame.
Dr Stephen Xenakis, a retired brigadier general and psychiatrist, said the suicides reflected the level of tension as the US gradually leaves Afghanistan.
“It’s a sign of the stress the army has been under over the 10 years of war,” he said. “We’ve seen before that these signs show up even more dramatically when the fighting seems to go down and the Army is returning to garrison.”