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Army Suicides Set to Hit New High in 2009

WASHINGTON (CN) - Army suicides are set to exceed last year's record 140, a top general said at a press conference on Tuesday, adding that the branch is making progress in tackling the tragic problem.

"We are almost certainly going to end the year higher than last year," said Army Vice Chief of Staff Peter Chiarelli, who oversees the Army's suicide prevention efforts.

As of Nov. 16, 140 active-duty soldiers and 71 soldiers not on active duty have committed suicide, compared to the same number of active-duty suicides and 14 more non-active-duty suicides in 2008, Chiarelli said.

Despite the bleak trend, Chiarelli pointed to new programs that have taken the suicide rate from an initial high to a hopeful low. Forty of the 140 suicides happened in January and February, but since the Army established education programs in February, the numbers have dropped, he said.

"We are also working very, very hard in the Army to eliminate the stigma long associated with seeking and receiving help," Chiarelli said. "This is a matter of life and death, and it is absolutely unacceptable to have individuals suffering in silence."

The Army also adopted the Comprehensive Soldier Fitness Program last year, which Chiarelli described as an investment in soldiers' mental and emotional health.

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