Panetta Calls for Leadership on Suicide Prevention

WASHINGTON, June 8, 2012 — Defense Sec­re­tary Leon E. Panet­ta, in an inter­nal memo writ­ten last month, addressed the issue of mil­i­tary sui­cides, call­ing it one of the most com­plex and urgent prob­lems fac­ing the depart­ment, a Pen­ta­gon spokesman said today.

In a brief­ing with reporters, Navy Capt. John Kir­by con­firmed the accu­ra­cy of num­bers in news reports indi­cat­ing that mil­i­tary sui­cides have risen 18 per­cent, from 130 in the peri­od from Jan. 1 to June 3, 2011, to 154 in the same peri­od this year.

“We’ve said for many years now how deeply con­cerned we are about the tragedy of sui­cides in the mil­i­tary and we rec­og­nize that the num­bers are going up,” Kir­by said.

“If you just com­pare this year’s num­bers … com­pared to 10 years ago, they’ve dou­bled,” he added, “and each one is a tragedy.”

Refer­ring to Panetta’s May 10 memo on sui­cide pre­ven­tion for Defense Depart­ment per­son­nel, Kir­by said the sec­re­tary makes clear that sui­cide pre­ven­tion is, first and fore­most, a lead­er­ship respon­si­bil­i­ty.

“To that end,” Panet­ta wrote, “lead­ers through­out the chain of com­mand must active­ly pro­mote a con­struc­tive com­mand cli­mate that fos­ters cohe­sion and encour­ages indi­vid­u­als to reach out for help when need­ed.”

In the memo, he notes that the under­sec­re­tary of defense for per­son­nel and readi­ness estab­lished a Defense Sui­cide Pre­ven­tion Office to serve as the focal point for sui­cide pre­ven­tion pol­i­cy, train­ing and pro­grams.

The DOD Task Force on the Pre­ven­tion of Sui­cide, estab­lished in 2009, rec­om­mend­ed the cre­ation of such an office in its 2010 report, “The Chal­lenge and the Promise: Strength­en­ing the force, Pre­vent­ing Sui­cide and Sav­ing Lives.”

The sui­cide pre­ven­tion office, Panet­ta wrote, will col­lab­o­rate with mil­i­tary depart­ments to imple­ment the rec­om­men­da­tions of the DOD Task Force on the Pre­ven­tion of Sui­cide and serve as the DOD lead with the Vet­er­ans Affairs Depart­ment and non­govern­ment orga­ni­za­tions on sui­cide pre­ven­tion.

“We under­stand there is a stig­ma to men­tal health issues that regret­tably per­sists,” Kir­by said.

“The sec­re­tary wants to make it very clear to every­body in uni­form and their fam­i­lies that there’s noth­ing stronger you can do for your­self and your fam­i­ly than to come for­ward and seek some help and seek the coun­sel­ing that you need,” he added. “And you’ll get it from the depart­ment.”

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