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Marine suicides in 2008 at a yearly high since Iraq invasion

Forty-one active-duty Marines are possible or confirmed suicides for the year. The rate per 100,000 troops remains about the same due to the Corps' increased size, a report says.

January 14, 2009|Tony Perry

More active-duty Marines committed suicide last year than any year since the U.S.-led invasion of Iraq in March 2003, although the suicide rate remained virtually unchanged because the Marine Corps is increasing in size, according to a report issued Tuesday.

Forty-one Marines are listed as possible or confirmed suicides in 2008, or 16.8 per 100,000 troops, the Marine Corps report said. Nearly all were enlisted and under 24, and about two-thirds had deployed overseas.

In 2007, 33 Marines committed suicide -- a rate of 16.5 per 100,000 troops. The Marine Corps is adding troops and calling in reservists to serve in Iraq and Afghanistan, as well as other foreign bases and stateside.

The Marine suicide rate is still below that for civilian populations with similar demographics -- 19.5 per 100,000.

It is also less than that of the Army in 2007 (18.1 per 100,000). The Army suicide figures for 2008 have not yet been released, but officials said late last year they expected the number and rate to increase from 2007.

The suicide rates for the Marines and the Army have been closely tracked because the two services have borne the brunt of the fighting and repeat deployments in the Middle East.

Release of the Marine figures came during a four-day suicide prevention workshop in San Antonio sponsored by the Defense and Veterans Affairs departments.

The keynote address was given by Army Maj. Gen. Mark Graham, who lost one son to suicide and another to combat in Iraq.

"Both of my sons died fighting different battles," he said.

The Marine Corps has several programs to prevent suicide, beginning in boot camp. Marines are encouraged to watch their buddies for signs that they may be considering suicide.

In October, the Army and the National Institute of Mental Health began a five-year, $50-million research program to investigate the causes of suicide among troops.

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tony.perry@latimes.com

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