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More U.S. military personnel have died by suicide since the war in Afghanistan began than have died fighting there. The rate jumped 80% from 2004 to 2008, and while it leveled off in 2010 and 2011, it has soared 18% this year. Suicide has passed road accidents as the leading noncombat cause of death among U.S. troops. While it's hard to come by historical data on military suicides--the Army has been keeping suicide statistics only since the early 1980s--there's no denying that the current numbers constitute a crisis.
The specific triggers for suicide are unique to each service member. The stresses layered on by war--the frequent deployments, the often brutal choices, the loss of comrades, the family separation--play a role. So do battle injuries, especially traumatic brain injury and posttraumatic stress disorder (PTSD). And the constant presence of pain and death can lessen one's fear of them.
But combat trauma alone can't account for the trend. Nearly a third of the suicides from 2005 to 2010 were among troops who had never deployed; 43% had deployed only once. Only 8.5% had deployed three or four times. Enlisted service members are more likely to kill themselves than officers, and 18-to-24-year-olds more likely than older troops. Two-thirds do it by gunshot; 1 in 5 hangs himself. And it's almost always him: nearly 95% of cases are male. A majority are married.