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2006 suicide numbers not start of trend

By Staff Sgt. C. Todd Lopez

(Dec. 07, 2006) -- The number of suicides among Airmen in fiscal 2006 rose about 14 percent above a ten year average for the service, but the increase is not likely the start of a trend, an Air Force official said.

"The suicide rate for 2006 is most indicative of the random variations year-to-year of suicides," said Lt. Col. Steven Pflanz of the Air Force Medical Operations Agency suicide prevention office.

The Air Force measures suicides in terms of deaths per 100,000 Airmen. The suicide rate for 2004 was 15.2. In 2005, the rate dropped to 7.8. And in 2006, it rose again to 11.4. But the service's average for the 10-year period beginning in FY 1997 is just 10,- a 28 percent decrease in suicides from the previous decade.

The Air Force has had more success in reducing suicides that any other organization or group in the world. That decrease is due largely to implementation of the Air Force's suicide prevention program in 1996, said Colonel Pflanz.

"The Air Force has had a lot of success in reducing suicides over the last decade with our suicide prevention program," he said. "Much of the rest of the world and the country look to the Air Force suicide prevention program as a model for preventing suicide at the community level."

The colonel said that in the Air Force, the suicide prevention program is successful because it is community driven.

"Suicide prevention is a community responsibility," he said. "The wing commander and wing psychiatrist don't know everyone who is in distress, so if we wait until people get to their offices, we are going to miss the boat. Our program asks that Airmen of all ranks be looking for folks who are having trouble every day, so we can bring assistance to them as early as possible."

The result of the Air Force suicide prevention program was a 28 percent decrease in suicide rates in the decade following its implementation.

"If we had a drug that reduced the death due to an illness by 28 percent, it would be flying off the shelves," Colonel Pflanz said. "Yet, that is what our suicide prevention program is doing."