Defense Department Joins Suicide Prevention Alliance

WASHINGTON — Tak­ing care of ser­vice­mem­bers is among Defense Sec­re­tary Robert M. Gates’ top con­cerns, he said today, and that includes pre­vent­ing mil­i­tary sui­cides.

“It is always a hor­ri­ble tragedy to see a ser­vice­mem­ber safe­ly off the bat­tle­field only to lose them to this scourge,” Gates said. “It is the ongo­ing duty of this depart­ment to do every­thing pos­si­ble to care for those who pro­tect our nation.” 

Speak­ing at the launch of the Nation­al Action Alliance for Sui­cide Pre­ven­tion at the Nation­al Press Club here, Gates under­scored the impor­tance of a nation­wide approach to sui­cide pre­ven­tion. The alliance’s strat­e­gy pools fed­er­al and pri­vate-sec­tor research and resources in hopes of bet­ter address­ing the nation­al sui­cide rate. 

Vet­er­ans Affairs Sec­re­tary Eric K. Shin­se­ki and Health and Human Ser­vices Sec­re­tary Kath­leen Sebe­lius are part of the alliance and rep­re­sent the pub­lic sec­tor on the board. Army Sec­re­tary John M. McHugh rep­re­sents the pub­lic sec­tor as co-chair. 

The mil­i­tary sui­cide rate has increased steadi­ly over the past five years, exceed­ing the nation­al aver­age of 11.1 sui­cides per 100,000 peo­ple. The mil­i­tary last year aver­aged 12.5, accord­ing to a Defense Depart­ment task force. 

Sui­cide claimed 309 mil­i­tary mem­bers last year, and 267 troops com­mit­ted sui­cide in 2008, the task force said. From 2005 to 2009, more than 1,100 ser­vice­mem­bers took their own lives, an aver­age of one sui­cide every 36 hours, the task force said.

“We must and we will do bet­ter,” Gates said. 

Gates out­lined some of the chal­lenges the mil­i­tary faces in sui­cide pre­ven­tion, cit­ing near­ly a decade of war and advance­ments in pro­tec­tion and bat­tle­field med­i­cine. While more troops are sur­viv­ing phys­i­cal injuries, psy­cho­log­i­cal war wounds have tak­en a toll on the mil­i­tary, he explained. 

The stig­ma asso­ci­at­ed with seek­ing help for post-trau­mat­ic stress and trau­mat­ic brain injuries also is a chal­lenge in sui­cide pre­ven­tion, he said, not­ing that such con­di­tions can increase the risk of suicide. 

“We are also con­fronting a his­tor­i­cal stig­ma attached to these kinds of wounds — a lack of under­stand­ing that they, too, are an inevitable con­se­quence of com­bat, that those fight­ing to recov­er deserve respect for their sac­ri­fice, as well as the best state-of-the-art care,” Gates said. 

The Defense Depart­ment has tak­en sev­er­al mea­sures to reduce stress on the force and help troops and their fam­i­lies in need, he said. 

Gates not­ed that the Army and Marine Corps are grow­ing the size of their forces to increase time at home between deploy­ments. Also, the Pen­ta­gon is work­ing to improve access to care by adding more 2,000 men­tal health providers at mil­i­tary health care facil­i­ties. Ini­tia­tives are also under way to improve care for reserve-com­po­nent troops and their fam­i­lies, many of whom don’t have the same access to sup­port as active-duty troops, he said. 

The Pentagon’s most notable — and per­haps most dif­fi­cult — chal­lenge is work­ing to change the reluc­tance with­in the mil­i­tary cul­ture to seek men­tal health care. Gates said troops who seek psy­cho­log­i­cal care are not at risk of dam­ag­ing their careers. In fact, he added, he prais­es their will­ing­ness to come forward. 

“As with almost every issue in our mil­i­tary, progress on this front comes down to lead­er­ship among those in com­mand and lead­er­ship posi­tions,” he said. “They need to aggres­sive­ly encour­age those under them to seek help if need­ed, and also set an exam­ple by doing the same.” 

Tack­ling the military’s sui­cide issue will trans­late to suc­cess in the civil­ian world, he added. 

“In every­thing we do, we must remem­ber that every sol­dier, sailor, air­man or Marine is part not just of the mil­i­tary, but also of a larg­er com­mu­ni­ty,” the sec­re­tary said. “Their fam­i­lies, their home­towns, their civil­ian employ­ers, their places of wor­ship all must be involved in the solution.” 

McHugh agreed. The Army’s efforts to bet­ter under­stand what it takes to pre­vent sui­cide among its force have deter­mined that many of the issues are not relat­ed just to the Army and mil­i­tary, he said. 

“Many [psy­cho­log­i­cal issues] are the shared chal­lenges that every cit­i­zen in every com­mu­ni­ty in this coun­try and indeed in every cor­ner of this world faces — things like drug and alco­hol abuse, finan­cial hard­ships [and] rela­tion­ship chal­lenges,” he said. 

Get­ting peo­ple to seek help and reduc­ing the nation’s sui­cide rate must be a team effort, McHugh said. 

“As proud as we are of what we can accom­plish, we nei­ther can nor wish to go it alone,” McHugh said. “This is such an excit­ing oppor­tu­ni­ty and an hon­or for us to part­ner with some of the most illus­tra­tive orga­ni­za­tions and minds, some of the most lead­ing schol­ars and groups involved in this crit­i­cal challenge. 

“I look for­ward to the work ahead,” he con­tin­ued. “I look for­ward to learn­ing and to tak­ing those lessons back to the department.” 

Source:
U.S. Depart­ment of Defense
Office of the Assis­tant Sec­re­tary of Defense (Pub­lic Affairs) 

More news and arti­cles can be found on Face­book and Twitter.

Fol­low GlobalDefence.net on Face­book and/or on Twit­ter

Team GlobDef

Team GlobDef

Seit 2001 ist GlobalDefence.net im Internet unterwegs, um mit eigenen Analysen, interessanten Kooperationen und umfassenden Informationen für einen spannenden Überblick der Weltlage zu sorgen. GlobalDefenc.net war dabei die erste deutschsprachige Internetseite, die mit dem Schwerpunkt Sicherheitspolitik außerhalb von Hochschulen oder Instituten aufgetreten ist.

Alle Beiträge ansehen von Team GlobDef →