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Army Releases Suicide Report, Prevention Recommendations

By Army Sgt. 1st Class Michael J. Carden
American Forces Press Service

WASHINGTON, July 29, 2010 – An Army task force created to reduce the increasing rate of soldier suicides released more than 250 recommendations, including establishing health promotion councils at each installation, expanding behavioral health screenings, and recruiting additional behavioral health counselors. Video

Army Gen. Peter W. Chiarelli, the Army’s vice chief of staff and head of the task force, explained that Army units have worked rigorously over the past decade to prepare for and serve in combat. But leaders began to overlook signals and behaviors, including misconduct, which may have indicated an increased risk of suicide for some soldiers, the general told reporters at a Pentagon news conference today.

“You have to understand that we prioritized … to fight our nation's wars and to be ready and tactically sound to go and do the mission we were given by the country,” he said. “[Commanders] rightly prioritized the No. 1 thing that they were going to do is to prepare their soldiers to go into harm's way.

“Now, as we come back and we start to see [time at home between deployments] increase -- or at least we forecast it's going to increase -- it's time for the Army to take a hard look at itself,” he continued. “What are those things that came lower on our priority list that we need to re-institute, reinforce, and start doing to get at this problem?”

The health promotion, risk reduction and suicide prevention report outlines the Army’s miscues, identifies indicators of suicide and, more importantly, offers more than 250 recommendations to reduce the suicide risk.

“[The report] identifies indicators of high-risk behaviors that are reflective of the stress and strain on the force after almost a decade of persistent conflict,” the general said. “It also identifies gaps in policies [and] procedures pertaining to the surveillance and detection and mitigation of high-risk suicidal behavior.”

The rate of soldier suicides has risen in each of the past five years. In fiscal 2009, 160 soldiers took their own lives, while there more than 1,700 attempts. Meanwhile, soldiers without deployment experience or with one deployment account for 79 percent of Army suicides.

Newer soldiers are at a higher risk, the general said.

“The most difficult year to be in the Army is the first year,” Chiarelli said. “Sixty percent of suicides occur in first-term soldiers.”

The Army’s top priority is defending the nation, but it needs to give individual soldier issues more attention, Chiarelli said, citing stressors outside of deployments, such as family and financial issues and drug abuse. Army officials now are focusing more efforts on building resilience in soldiers, Chiarelli said, and therefore, reducing suicide calls for a change in the Army’s culture.

“If young leaders are doing anything down there today, they ought to be focusing their sponsorship programs on young soldiers coming into the unit -- that soldier that just comes out of basic [training] who's trying to make friends, who is new to the unit,” the general said. “These are the kinds of things and lessons that you draw from this data that we believe are going to be absolutely essential for us getting a handle on this.”

Over the past year, the Army has launched the Comprehensive Soldier Fitness Program and the Master Resilience Trainer Course. Both initiatives are geared to teaching soldiers at the lowest levels to handle stress. The programs also give soldiers an outlet to seek help.

Also, Chiarelli noted, the Army has added 10 hours of resilience training in its basic training curriculum for new recruits.

Evidence-based training, the general said, shows that a high rate of resilience can be taught.

“Through this data,” he added, “we have focused our effort with our master resilience trainers at basic training. That’s the kind of thing that comes out of data like this, and it allows us to focus our efforts to make sure that we’re expending resources where we need to expend resources, and getting a very valuable resource to us, the master resilience trainer, to the place that he needs to be.

“If you have a choice,” he continued, “it’s a great place to have him -- in basic training, beginning the process of making soldiers more resilient before they go to their first unit.”

The Army must continue such efforts and focus more on the health and well-being of the entire force, including family members, Chiarelli said.

The task force recommendations include tightening enlistment standards, establishing health promotion councils at each installation, expanding behavioral health screenings, and recruiting additional behavioral health counselors. The Army also created 72 additional positions for chaplains, according to the task force’s report.

Chiarelli also noted that the number of recruiting waivers in 2009 is down almost 50 percent from 2007. Such waivers allow recruits with certain medical conditions and minor criminal offenses to enlist, helping the Army to meet recruiting goals. Some of these soldiers, Chiarelli acknowledged, are considered a higher risk for suicide than others, but he noted that the number of soldiers separated from the Army for disciplinary reasons also is down over the past 12 years.

The general said the report helps leaders understand how the Army has changed after a decade of war. Some of these leaders, he said, have known nothing but the current high operations tempo. The Army is paying more attention to soldiers who joined shortly on, or around, Sept. 11, 2001, he added.

Many of these soldiers now are senior leaders responsible for the training and well-being of junior troops and don’t know the military that existed before the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan, he explained.

“You need to understand that we've got platoon sergeants -- E-7s in the United States Army today -- who joined the Army after Sept. 11, 2001,” he said. “Their life has been constantly ‘reset, train, ready, deploy, and begin that process all over again.’ We have families [for whom] that’s all they’ve ever experienced.”

The Army hopes to build on the data it has gathered and it will continue to hone in the information necessary to reduce the suicide rate, Chiarelli said. It’s a difficult undertaking, but must be done, he added.

Army leaders now understand that the health of the force is a priority, he said.

“I think our commanders are understanding that now,” he said. “As we get deeper and deeper in this, … the realization has come.”

The report’s recommendations are not yet Army policy. The report now must go through a staffing process, where top leaders will make further determinations, Chiarelli said.


Contact Author

Army Gen. Peter W. Chiarelli

Related Sites:
Army Health Promotion, Risk Reduction, Suicide Prevention Report 2010
Special Report: Warrior Care


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.

8/29/2010 11:02:25 AM
A grieving mom. A preventable suicide. It is interesting that the independent DoD task force, led by Maj. Gen. Volpe and Bonnie Carroll of TAPS, created recommendations that centered on leadership, positive command climate, & a boost in mental health services. The soldiers themselves were not blamed. What a contrast to the Army's own assessment of its problem. Read TIME's 4/13/09 account of Army recruiters' suicides. Read about the private in Iraq who put a gun in his mouth to kill himself but was OKed by an army psychologist who said the soldier was capable of feigning his problems to avoid combat. He later completed suicide. (NPR, 7/10/09) Consider the private who arrived in Iraq and was made to walk in sand on his knees until they bled. He chose suicide. Bullying lives on, covertly & overtly. In the CID report following my son's suicide a captain recalled warning a fellow officer that the 'major was trying to bully the new 2LT.' Leadership reform is the key.
- Lynea Hartig , Otsego, Michigan

8/25/2010 5:45:17 PM
My son took life this past December, I am saddened when I read these reports. He did not have to deploy to Al Anbar because of hernias but when I mentioned it, he would not hear of not fulfilling his service. He obtained college degrees, Masters and was in Law School all the while drilling on weekends and summers and deploying when ordered. He served under a mean spirited Sergeant that he conflicted with constantlly and would not have gone to for help because of the bullying. Calling an 1-800 number is not the answer the either. The other thing commanders are saying is using the buddy watch. My son as a Reserve did not have a buddy in the depths of night. When I saw it surface, I went to various people and no one would take me seriously. The military needs to educate the troops what a lethal enemy they are dealing with beforehand and educate the parents and all involved to see and take seriously the signs. Just blaming the soldiers who did their duty is heartbreaking.
- Bobbi, Arkansas

8/15/2010 10:53:38 PM
The report released by the Army’s Suicide Prevention Task Force is entitled, “Health Promotion, Risk Reduction, and Suicide Prevention.” Why is suicide being lumped in with high risk behaviors such as drug abuse, drunk driving, and law breaking? According to the report in 29% of army suicides drugs or alcohol is a factor. That means in 71% of them drugs or alcohol is not. The report also states that 60% of suicides are first-term soldiers. These first-term soldiers are men and women who volunteered to serve because they wanted to make the world a safer place only to experience NCO supported gladiator fighting (see August 11th comment) or “Self-absorbed pricks who make a fit about nothing…” (see August 3rd. comment). Please General Chiarelli, look at the leadership.
- Elizabeth Vidmar, Michigan

8/11/2010 1:52:02 AM
Hello. Thank you General for doing your best to reverse suicide. Not all can be eliminated. I am saddened to hear from the Mother here. The General is definitely on the right track stating leadership needs to be held accountable. I have heard stories about NCO's encouraging enlisted to fight each other, like gladiators, someone has to win, by severely injuring the other soldier. This was in Korea recently. When the soldier who won the fight retold the story I referred him to counseling. Army Recruiters have been committing suicide in greater numbers since 2001. It should not have taken nine years for USAREC to start really addressing this problem. I have not seen a sense of shame regarding the deaths, two more in the past two months. And there should be. Why would a soldier kill himself as a state side desk jockey and salesman? USAREC - you tell us. This has got to stop. Management policies have to change. Please hear us, dear General Chiarelli. Thank you.
- Ghost, California

8/3/2010 5:57:56 PM
My son took his life June 11, 2009 while serving in Germany. He had none of the drug/alcohol/financial/criminal woes this report cites. His journal, written 12 days before his death, states: "Hmm...let me think...why are so many people committing suicide in the Army? As long as you have self-absorbed pricks like {redacted} who make a fit out of nothing, then you can do all the suicide awareness and training you want, but people will still feel worthless and kill themselves. It's that simple." My son was criticized for not knowing his job better yet he was the product of Army training. In the CID report, a soldier described my son's arrival: "He was thrown face first into a sandwich and told to eat his way out." Leadership is more than reporting substance abuse/crimes. The report sets up a multi-layered plan to halt suicide. Ineffective Army leadership, however, will undo any mandate to improve the well-being of soldiers.
- Lynea Hartig, Otsego, Michigan

7/30/2010 2:30:51 PM
The undercurrent of the article either implies or directly connects criminal behavior and misconduct to suicide without any presentation of supporting data or clarification of this theme. This article allows the reader to assume that all past suicides in the Army are by soldiers who have had minor criminal offenses, have abused drugs, or have some other misconduct issues (condescending). Does this mean the Army is absolved? It is dangerous to bully soldiers contemplating suicide or demonize the act by connecting it to misconduct or criminal behavior. Either perspective is outdated and tainted with societal norms that provides neither victim or family member any respite. This prevention effort will continue to fail if the article's position actually reflects the Army's official position, one that seems to confuse the method of taking one's life with the motivation for taking one's life.
- Robert Everson , Pentagon

7/30/2010 10:20:38 AM
I am a retired veteran with a Masters degree in Counseling Psychology who has worked in the social services and has worked with military families although the government says that I am NOT qualified to take a position helping with Suicide Prevention because I do not hold a Nursing or Social Work degree. It saddens me when I read these articles and feel like I would be able to be a help to these people and am not afforded the opportunity. I have read numerous articles stating that everything is being done to get the best help to veterans, but I do not believe it is true if veterans who are qualified to help are being turned away because of their degree field.
- MB, PA

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