Military suicide numbers surpass combat deaths in 2012

Gregg Keesling (right) says more checks would have prevented his son, Chase, from committing suicide.
Published: .
Updated: .

Military suicides have surged, and what's perhaps more disturbing, more U.S. troops took their own lives than those who died in combat in Afghanistan last year.

The Associated Press reports 349 suicides of U.S. service members in 2012. Compare that to 295 American combat deaths in Afghanistan during the same year.

According to branches of the military, the Army has the highest number of suicides among active-duty troops, with 182 last year. There were 60 suicides in the Navy, 59 in the Air Force, and 48 in the Marine Corps.

The numbers are disturbing. One local father says while preventable, the number of deaths is not surprising.

Tears come easy for Gregg Keesling.

"I miss my son," he said as sat down with Eyewitness News to discuss the latest military suicide numbers.

More than three years ago, he watched as his son came home from Iraq, his casket draped in an American flag and received at Dover Air Force Base.

Chance Keesling committed suicide.

This year, 349 other family members of active duty troops have faced the same reality. In 2011, 301 troops died at their own hands.

"I think we have a long way to go on this. It's not going to surprise me if you call me a year from now and say the numbers are still up," said Gregg Keesling.

He says while more programs are now offered to soldiers, the stigma associated with mental health problems prevents many from getting the help they need.

Last year, Congressman André Carson (D-Indiana) got an amendment passed that would require soldiers facing re-deployment to undergo a mental evaluation before they are ship out for another tour of duty.

"There's no doubt in my mind that Chance would be with us today," Keesling believes, if those kinds of checks would have been made before 2009.

The amendment also now requires that medical records from past unit assignments and the VA be reviewed as well. Keesling says it would have saved his son's life.

"Because my son was under suicide watch his first deployment in 2007. The old law, the American Portability Act, prevented his mental health information from traveling from the enlisted time to the Reserves," he said.