WASHINGTON — While no easy answers exist to a military suicide problem that has reached “crisis level,” a big part of the solution is tied to leadership, the chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff said today.
Addressing the National Guard Family Program Volunteer Workshop in New Orleans, Navy Adm. Mike Mullen touched on the need to care for servicemembers, both physically and emotionally.
“Because of the pace, because of the stress, because of the demands, and because of the incredible achievements as well as the tragedies that are associated with these wars, we are holding a lot in,” Mullen said. “As these wars wind down — and they will — I would argue that the better we are right now, the more up front we are in attacking and trying to solve some of these problems, the quicker they will go away.”
However, Defense Department officials still are in the early stages of understanding war’s impacts, such as post-traumatic stress and traumatic brain injury, Mullen noted.
The focus must be on how to get ready for that deployment and how to be preventive in building resilience on the front end that will carry through the deployment cycle.
Mullen also expressed concern for the rate at which the nation is generating homeless veterans, particularly female homeless veterans. “They have the children,” he said. “We’ve got to head that off.”
Mullen said he was approached by a young homeless veteran in Los Angeles who had served in operations Iraqi Freedom and Enduring Freedom. He told the chairman, “I gave a 100 percent; I’d just like 100 percent back.”
On wounded warriors, Mullen noted that while compensation is necessary, the emphasis has been primarily on disability and on money. However, he added, “the emphasis needs to be on ability and on people and on their future, because they are going to give a lot.”
Mullen called on the military’s leaders to help. “The most important ingredient is leadership: aggressive, focused, listening leadership,” he said. “Because … in the toughest situations, when nothing else seems to work, leadership breaks through.
“We can’t do anything in the military without sustaining this great force,” he added. “That’s why we’ve got to get it right, now and in the future.”
U.S. Department of Defense
Office of the Assistant Secretary of Defense (Public Affairs)