(Newsroom America) -- The U.S. Army on Thursday released a grim statistic, announcing that suicides hit a single-month high in July, with 38 active duty and reserve members taking their lives.
That figure was up from 24 in June, a number that is also disturbingly high, officials have said.
The Army's high suicide rates have left the top officers and Pentagon officials grappling with ways to mitigate what some have begun to call an epidemic.
"I was pretty shocked when I saw the number," Tom Tarantino, legislative director for Iraq and Afghanistan Veterans of America, told Reuters.
"This has been a continuous problem. This really stems from the military, and the [Department of Veterans Affairs], for that matter, basically the entire military and veteran community, really coming to this issue several years late," he said, adding: "It really wasn’t until 2007-2008, really 2009, that they started thinking about it at the level they need to be thinking about it."
Several high-profile figures, including Defense Secretary Leon Panetta, Army Chief of Staff Gen. Ray Odierno, former Joint Chiefs Chairman Adm. Mike Mullen and former Army Vice Chief Gen. Peter Chiarelli, have pushed for stronger efforts aimed at providing help for struggling troops.
But, critics say, the wider Army is losing the battle.
"These guys get it," Tarantino told the news wire service. "But until we get that sergeant, that lieutenant, that captain, that corporal to get it, it’s going to take a long time until we turn the tide on this."
Army officials say that, so far in 2012, dozens of service members - 187 in all - have committed suicide. In 2011, that figure was 283. These figures do not include the number of former service members who have killed themselves.
"As shocking as the Army numbers are, we have no idea what the veteran numbers are," Tarantino said.
Army officials say the service is attempting to eliminate the stigma among troops to seek help.
"Suicide is the toughest enemy I have faced in my 37 years in the Army," Gen. Lloyd Austin, the Army’s current vice chief, told Reuters. "And, it’s an enemy that’s killing not just soldiers, but tens of thousands of Americans every year."
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