Minnesota leads U.S. in National Guard suicides since 2008

Government data shows that National Guard soliders -- even those who haven't deployed -- are particularly susceptible to suicide.

Government data shows that National Guard soliders -- even those who haven't deployed -- are particularly susceptible to suicide.

More Minnesota National Guard soldiers have committed suicide since 2008 than those from any other state.

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That grim tidbit was contained in an extensive report on Texas National Guard suicides put together by the Austin American-Statesman and published over the weekend.

[jump] Here's an excerpt from that report, entitled "More Guard soldiers dying from car crashes, suicide than in combat":

Since 2008, Texas has ranked second among the states in Army National Guard suicides, trailing only Minnesota, which has 25 suicides over the last five years, according to a National Guard report obtained by the Statesman. Texas, which has the nation's largest Army National Guard force with about 20,000 soldiers, has had 22 suicides over that time, four more than California, which has the second-largest force. Texas has had more such suicides than Florida, New York and Georgia combined.

In recent years, National Guard suicides have helped drive overall Army suicides to record levels. In 2010, the overall National Guard suicide rate eclipsed that of active-duty soldiers and the civilian population; last year, about 1 in 3 Army suicides was of a National Guard soldier. Officials say about half of National Guard suicide victims nationally had never deployed, a trend that appears to hold in Texas.

Army National Guard soldiers differ from their active-duty counterparts in that before and after deployments they return to civilian communities and jobs while they drill once a month. As a result, National Guard soldiers can face unique challenges, ranging from abrupt transitions after deployments to difficulties getting mental health care.

In December 2011, the Legislature held a hearing on the issue of Minnesota National Guard suicides. An MPR report details some of the testimony that took place:
The circumstances of each death are unique, but there are some similarities, [Adjutant General Rick] Nash said. All of the soldiers had personal struggles involving mental health, relationships, substance abuse, unemployment, financial or legal problems, he said. Nash downplayed post-traumatic stress disorder as a factor, because two-thirds of the suicides involved soldiers who had never been deployed. He further explained that the ranking is the result of the Minnesota Guard's more aggressive approach to identifying and reporting suicides...

The Guard has taken major steps to better train its soldiers to identify and intervene with colleagues who may be suicidal, Nash said. However, help is not always readily available for a part-time force, he said. The state Department of Veterans Affairs and Lutheran Social Services offer some key ongoing help, including free crisis counseling...

Even when the military offered help, some soldiers didn't take it. Mary Clare Lindberg said her son Army Sgt. Benjamin Miller, who committed suicide three years ago, turned down an offer of counseling. Lindberg said her son didn't want to appear weak in the eyes of his fellow soldiers.

When that hearing took place, 24 Minnesota National Guard soliders had committed suicide since 2007. With the latest numbers indicating 25 Guard soliders have killed themselves since 2008, the suicide rate doesn't appear to have significantly slowed in 2012.