Suicide, car crashes leading causes of death for troops in 2017

Suicide, car crashes leading causes of death for troops in 2017

Of the 55 soldiers who died last year, 16 took their own lives, 12 died in car accidents, 9 of illness, 2 killed in operations, 5 in terror attacks, 11 in on-base accidents

Judah Ari Gross is The Times of Israel's military correspondent.

Illustrative. A funeral for an IDF soldier on December 3, 2017. (Miriam Alster/Flash90)
Illustrative. A funeral for an IDF soldier on December 3, 2017. (Miriam Alster/Flash90)

Sixteen IDF soldiers committed suicide in 2017, making it the leading cause of death among Israeli troops in 2017, followed closely by car accidents, which claimed the lives of 12 soldiers, the army said on Tuesday.

In total, 55 Israeli soldiers — conscripts, career officers and reservists — were killed in the past year, in terror attacks, accidents, car crashes and from medical problems.

The suicide figures are similar to 2016 and 2015, when 15 soldiers committed suicide, but a significant decrease from the early 2000s when dozens of soldiers each year ended their own lives.

The Israel Defense Forces credited this decrease over the past decade to a number of programs that are designed to better train commanders to identify the signs that someone might have suicidal thoughts, as well as a streamlining of army processes to ensure that relevant information gets passed along to the officers responsible for mental health as soldiers move between units.

An IDF spokesperson noted that the suicide rate in the army is lower than that of people of the same age in the general population, and is also significantly less than the suicide rate of other armies around the world.

Of the 16 soldiers who committed suicide in 2017, all but one were men. This is in line with a general global trend of men being more likely to commit suicide than women.

According to the army’s statistics, in addition to the suicides, seven of the 55 deaths in 2017 occurred during military operations or in terror attacks, nine from medical problems, two in operational accidents, four in on-duty car crashes, eight in off-duty car crashes and nine in non-operational accidents.

The number of overall deaths is a 34 percent increase from the previous year, when 41 soldiers were killed, and a more than 50 percent increase from 2015 when 36 soldiers died. (The figures from 2014 are not particularly relevant, due to the the large military campaign in Gaza that year.)

The army did not credit the increase to any particular issue, but said it thoroughly investigates every death.

Though there was an increase in soldiers’ deaths over the past three years, there was no clear trend that accounted for it. In the past eight years, the number of soldiers killed each year — not including the 66 who were killed in the 2014 Gaza war — has fluctuated between 36 and 75.

Car accident deaths, for instance, were up from the seven dead in both 2015 and 2016, but down from other years.

Most of the soldiers injured or killed in 2017 were conscripted troops. A smaller portion were career soldiers, and a handful were reservists who were in service at the time of their deaths.

According to the army, no specific populations with lower socio-economic standings, like new immigrants or members of the Ethiopian community, were over-represented in the 16 soldiers who committed suicide in 2017, a change from some previous years.

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