Suicides of Older Troops Rare, and Rarely Addressed


By Debbie Gregory.

Maj. Gen. John Rossi was days away from taking command of Army Space and Missile Command. Instead, on July 31st , he was found dead, and his death was ruled a suicide.

Rossi, 55, was the commanding general for the Army Fires Center of Excellence and Fort Sill in Oklahoma. He had relinquished command at Fort Sill earlier in July.

Rossi served in Iraq, Southwest Asia, Korea, Germany and several postings in the United States, according to his Army biography. The 1983 West Point graduate was commissioned as an air defense artillery officer.

“Maj. Gen. Rossi was a respected leader, valiant warrior and trusted friend who gave more than 33 years of service to this nation,” the Army said in a statement.

The Pentagon’s most recent yearly data found 269 active-duty troops and 169 reserve and National Guard members were found to have killed themselves in 2014, according to its Suicide Event Report. While the number climbed from 2013, the services saw a reduction from 2012, in which 321 active-duty troops died by suicide.

This serves as a painful reminder that older servicemembers should not be overlooked in the military’s efforts to curb suicide. Two active-duty troops aged 50-54 committed suicide in 2014, according to the Pentagon report.

“While we have focused our attention on young people — who make up the bulk of our force, and for whom suicide is the second leading cause of death nationwide — the most recent data shows middle-aged Americans are the fastest-growing, at-risk population. Suicide knows no common race or age, gender or position,” the Army release on Rossi’s death stated.

Two-thirds of all veterans who committed suicide in 2014 were 50 years old or older, according to Department of Veterans Affairs data released this year, which also revised the number of 22 veteran suicides per day to 20 due to more comprehensive data.

He is survived by his wife Liz, his three children and one grandchild.

“To all the other families out there, to the man or woman who may be facing challenging times, please seek assistance immediately…compassionate and confidential assistance is available,” Rossi’s family said.

Troops and veterans can reach VA’s Veterans Crisis Line at 1-800-273-8255, then press 1, text 838255, or through a chat service at the Crisis Line homepage.

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