By Pat Loeb

PHILADELPHIA (CBS) – The Army has been confronting an alarming increase in the number of suicides among soldiers and it’s seeking help from an unusual source: the Rutgers University Cell and DNA Repository. Rutgers has received $2.5 million to explore a genetic link to combat-related suicide.

In previous times, the military had a lower suicide rate than the general population, but in the last decade — as volunteer soldiers were repeatedly deployed to Iraq and Afghanistan — the military suicide rate increased by 80 percent, with nearly 300 last year — more than were killed in combat.

“It’s obvious that something’s happening,” and Professor Jay Tischfield thinks Rutgers can help figure out what.

“It’s not that simple, because it doesn’t correlate directly with repeated deployments. Obviously a lot of mental stress does but the suicide issue is much more complicated.”

He says the study is not so much about suicide. “This is a study about resiliency to stress in troops and why some people develop mental health problems and why other people seem to do okay.”

Tischfield says the Rutgers study will try to figure out what genetic factors enable some troops to withstand the stress of combat while others are more sensitive to it. He says the results will have broad implications– for the Army.

“You could screen people who are at risk to, for example, to support positions.”

But, Tischfield says it may also help veterans, who have a very high suicide rate, and the general population.

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