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February 4, 2013

Region confronts another military suicide

Latest death follows Rockport captain's case

A combat veteran’s suicide Jan. 15 in Methuen has once again underscored the challenge military branches across the country are facing as men and women return home from service after extended tours of duty.

Veterans groups and advocates said the risk of suicide among veterans has increased over the last few years partly because servicemen and women have served multiple combat tours, and the heavy use of reservists means more service members have families back home. At the same time, mental health services for veterans are overwhelmed.

The man, who died at the National Guard Armory in Methuen, was an active duty sergeant first class in the Massachusetts Army National Guard from Uxbridge and a veteran of two combat tours. He was 50 years old, and married with two children.

Phone calls to the National Guard seeking information about the man’s tours were not returned.

Earlier this month, the Associated Press obtained figures from the U.S. Department of Defense showing 349 active duty military personnel committed suicide last year, the highest number since the Pentagon started closely tracking them in 2001. In Afghanistan, 313 Americans died last year, according to the Pentagon. Cynthia Smith, a spokeswoman for the Pentagon, said she could not provide 2012 statistics because the report has not been released yet, but confirmed the AP figures.

“It’s becoming obvious to everyone we’re in a crisis mode here,” said state Rep. Linda Dean Campbell, D-Methuen, who served in the Army along with her husband. “The current statistics are unacceptable. It’s unacceptable for us as a nation and we need to move quicker to address this crisis.”

Rockport captain’s case

The tragedy follows by less than a year the military suicide of a U.S. Army captain whose widow lives in Rockport and shared her story with the Times last year in the hopes of raising awareness of the growing problem.

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