USA — Army Strives to Reduce Suicide, Mental-health Issues

WASHINGTON — The Army is striv­ing to reduce sol­dier sui­cides and men­tal-health prob­lems by giv­ing troops more dwell time between deploy­ments, iden­ti­fy­ing tell-tale symp­toms more quick­ly and elim­i­nat­ing the stig­ma of seek­ing help, the Army vice chief of staff said today.

Army Gen. Peter W. Chiarel­li recapped find­ings of a task force he com­mis­sioned to reduce sol­dier sui­cides and men­tal-health prob­lems dur­ing an inter­view with Chris­tiane Aman­pour on ABC’s “This Week.”

The task force offered 250 rec­om­men­da­tions, includ­ing estab­lish­ing health pro­mo­tion coun­cils at each instal­la­tion, expand­ing behav­ioral health screen­ings and recruit­ing addi­tion­al behav­ioral health coun­selors.

“We have a force that has been stressed after almost a decade of war,” Chiarel­li said today, with many that have been home for just 12 to 16 months between 12- to 15-month deploy­ments.

In some cas­es, this stress has led to prob­lems with alco­hol and drug abuse, legal trou­bles, men­tal-health issues and, in the most extreme cas­es, sui­cide.

The first step in reduc­ing that stress lev­el, Chiarel­li said, is to pro­vide sol­diers 24 months before year-long deploy­ments, and ulti­mate­ly, three months at home for every month deployed.

“We know when that hap­pens many of the prob­lems that we’ve seen will in fact melio­rate them­selves,” Chiarel­li said.

Mean­while, the Army is bol­ster­ing its behav­ioral health staff and encour­ag­ing more sol­diers to take advan­tage of their ser­vices, he said.

It’s an effort Chiarel­li said starts at the top. “If you want to get at stig­ma, you start with the brigade com­man­der [and] brigade com­mand sergeant major and work right down the chain of com­mand so every sol­dier sees his leader going through the same checks that the soldier’s going to go through,” he said.

“Lead­ers need to lead, to know their sol­diers, to look for those signs that they see that Pfc. Chiarel­li has changed. Pfc. Chiarel­li is going out and maybe drink­ing a lit­tle bit too much, show­ing up for work late, what­ev­er it might be,” he said.

Part of the prob­lem, he con­ced­ed, is that too many sol­diers rec­og­nize that they need help, but put off get­ting it because they feel such a per­son­al respon­si­bil­i­ty to their units and bat­tle bud­dies.

“That’s one of the issues that we have to get through is we try to break down stig­ma — to get sol­diers to under­stand that these hid­den wounds of war are things that they’ve got to seek help for when they have prob­lems,” Chiarel­li said.

The Army also is explor­ing inno­v­a­tive approach­es to iden­ti­fy troops grap­pling with the emo­tion­al stress­es of com­bat and get them the care they need.

“We’re look­ing for new ways to be able to deliv­er behav­ior health, such as vir­tu­al behav­ior health where we lit­er­al­ly bring up a net­work using the Inter­net, using the net­work of doc­tors, say 200, from all over the Unit­ed States who can, in fact, pro­vide a good, good look at our sol­diers when they return,” Chiarel­li said.

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

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