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Army Strives to Reduce Suicide, Mental-health Issues

By Donna Miles
American Forces Press Service

WASHINGTON, Aug. 8, 2010 – 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.


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Army Gen. Peter W. Chiarelli

Related Articles:
Army Releases Suicide Report, Prevention Recommendations


Article is closed to new comments.

The opinions expressed in the following comments do not necessarily reflect those of the U.S. Department of Defense.

8/9/2010 5:39:53 PM
Thank you, Honorable GEN Chiarelli. Stepping out there to present this devastating problem from the perspective of a soldier such as yourself when you were first starting out hits home. Sir, I believe you must know how frustrating it can be for a social work specialist, especially over at USAREC, to do their very, very best, even though frequently they can perceive they are working within a vacuum. As you know, Sir, another USAREC Army Recruiter committed suicide this weekend. God rest their soul. Your support in this area is greatly appreciated. I firmly believe in the goodness of the U.S. Army and we do "get it." Let's get back to our roots, as you say. Thank you for your leadership and all of your efforts on our behalf, GEN Chiarelli.
- Ghost, California

8/9/2010 11:55:58 AM
I understand the suicide rate is high.We have to have a reason to live.Think about the children.Who is going to be there for the children?Life is not a bed of roses.
- Joseph Cimino, New York

8/9/2010 7:06:09 AM
It is encouraging to see the military finally "stepping up to the plate" to address this serious situation. Many of the enlisted military personnel, many of whom are minorities, come from environments in which they have already suffered from trauma related to violence, marginalization, oppression. The military places them in yet another traumatic situation increasing the likelihood that they will fall prey to alcoholism and substance abuse, spousal abuse, assaultive violence - the very conditions they sought to avoid by enlisting in the military.
- Susan McGilloway, Maryland

8/8/2010 4:39:43 PM
I understand the suicide rate is high.We have to have a reason to live.Think about the children.Who is going to be there for the children?Life is not a bed of roses.
- Joseph Cimino, N.Y

8/8/2010 4:27:58 PM
I am Ex-Army, this subject is something that should be brought to the attention of the national media. People should be aware about suicide.....I am an advocate for suicide awareness/prevention/intervention. Suicide tends to be a "taboo" subject. Thanks for this article!
- Laura Wopp-Hulin, Wisconsin

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