WASHINGTON — The Pentagon said Thursday the number of suicides in the US Army fell last year for the first time since 2004, but that sexual assaults increased.
A report on health issues in the largest branch of the US military said the number of suicides among active service members and reservists fell to 278 in 2011 from 304 in 2010. Among only active Army soldiers, the total rose by five to 164.
"I think we have begun the process in the Army of destigmatizing behavioral health issues and that to me is absolutely critical, that people who need help get the help that they need," said General Peter Chiarelli, Army vice-chief of staff.
The report was issued amid concerns about stress faced by soldiers after years of conflict in Iraq and Afghanistan, which has meant frequent combat tours for many service members.
The document also noted that the number of sexual assaults continued to rise to 2,290 in 2011. That is up 64 percent from 2006. In six out of 10 assaults, the aggressors had been consuming alcohol.
Most of the victims were female soldiers in their first 18 months of service, with most knowing their attacker.
The report also cited a sharp increase in cases of domestic violence and child abuse involving service members.
Chiarelli said post-traumatic stress (PTS) is linked to many of these issues: many of those injured in combat have suffered brain trauma, which has been linked to aggression.
"A person diagnosed with PTS is three times more likely to participate in some kind of partner aggression," he said.
"That is why it is so critical to eliminate the stigma associated with PTS and get people in for treatment, whether for alcohol problems, drug abuse problems, prescription-drugs abuse problems, anger management problems, or spouse and child abuse."