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Archive for Sunday, March 2, 2008

Pentagon: Military divorce rate unchanged

March 2, 2008

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— The divorce rate in the armed forces held steady last year at 3.3 percent, a surprising finding given the stress that marriages are under during persistent wars in Iraq and Afghanistan.

Some veterans questioned whether the figure, reported by the Pentagon, presents an accurate picture. But defense officials credited efforts in recent years to support couples enduring uncommonly long separations and other hardships because of those wars.

The divorce rate represented more than 25,000 failed marriages among the nearly 755,000 married active duty troops in all military branches between Oct. 1, 2006, and Oct. 1, 2007, according to statistics provided to The Associated Press.

The Defense Department data showed that the Army, the service with the largest number of troops in Iraq and Afghanistan, had a rate of 3.2 percent, unchanged from the previous year. That amounted to 8,748 divorces among the approximately 275,000 married soldiers.

Last year was the deadliest yet for U.S. troops in the wars. In addition, Army couples had to cope with extended separations because tours of duty lasted 15 months rather than 12 months.

Those longer deployments and multiple tours required of many troops have been widely blamed for unprecedented stresses on military couples. Spouses at home must manage families and households without their partner. The strain also has contributed to higher suicide rates and more mental health problems among troops.

"We all agree that there is stress on the families. It's just not manifesting itself in these numbers," a Pentagon spokesman, Lt. Col. Les Melnyk, said about the divorce statistics.

The biggest exception was a rise in divorce rates among military women. For years, their marriages have failed at twice the rate of men in service.

Though firm numbers were not available in the new data, Army divorces in 2007 appeared to occur in about 8 percent of service women's marriages and 2.6 percent of men's.

There is no comparable system for tracking civilian divorces.

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention said the divorce rate for the general population was 3.6 per 1,000 people in 2005 - the most recent statistics available; that was the lowest rate since 1970.

Todd Bowers of Iraq and Afghanistan Veterans of America said the wars are having a crushing effect on military marriages and producing a rising number of breakups that are not being tracked because they involve people who have left the service.

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