DOD News Briefing with Gen. Chiarelli on 2010 Army Suicide Statistics from the Pentagon
GEN. CHIARELLI: Well, good morning, and thank you all for being here today. I’m joined, as you can see, by Lieutenant General Jack Stultz, the chief of the Army Reserve, and Major General Ray Carpenter, the acting director of the Army National Guard.
I’d like to make a brief opening statement, and then we’ll field any questions you might have.
In calendar year 2010, the Army had 343 suicides of soldiers, Department of the Army civilians, and family members -- 69 more than in calendar year 2009. We achieved modest success in reducing the number of suicides of soldiers serving on active duty. However, we saw a significant increase in the number of suicides of soldiers not serving on active duty, to include a doubling in the Army National Guard.
Now, for those of you who don’t track this, when we say the active component force, we mean the 569,000 folks that are currently part of the active component force, plus all soldiers during that calendar year that we mobilize. So that includes soldiers from the Guard and Reserve.
And that total number on -- in any year, at least for the last eight to 10 years, has run anywhere between 725 and 750,000 total folks. So when I say "active component," I also include members of the Army Reserve and the Army National Guard who are mobilized during that year.
Our challenge in the year ahead is to keep building upon the initial progress made in the active component. We’ll continue in our efforts to replicate that progress in the reserve component, primarily by expanding the reach and accessibility of the programs and services that are positively impacting the lives of soldiers serving on active duty.
We attribute the modest decrease in suicides by soldiers serving on active duty last year to the programs and policy changes that have been implemented since the establishment of the Health Promotion, Risk Reduction Task Force and council in March of 2009. Among our efforts to date, we’re in the midst of implementing Army-wide, the chief’s -- and I call that it chief’s because he was the genesis for it, a fantastic program, the Comprehensive Soldier Fitness program. It focused on improving soldiers’ resiliency.
We’ve established a pain-management task force to appropriately manage the use of pain medications and adopt best practices Army-wide. We’ve initiated face-to-face post-deployment behavioral health screenings for all returning brigades in order to better identify at- risk soldiers and ensure that they receive appropriate treatment.
Looking ahead, we believe these and other efforts will take us from a leveling off of active-duty suicides to a reduction in suicides -- suicide attempts and other high-risk behavior.
The reality is, we are able to more effectively influence those soldiers serving on acting duty and help mitigate the stressors affecting them.
Conversely, it’s much more difficult to do so in the case of individuals not serving on active duty, because they are often geographically separated, removed from the support network provided by military installations. They lack the ready camaraderie of fellow soldiers and the daily oversight and hands-on assistance from members of the chain of command experienced while serving on active duty. In many cases, these soldiers have limited or reduced access to care and services. Meanwhile, they are more vulnerable to the challenges of an adverse economy and a troubled labor market, especially for our young people.
While we’ve learned a tremendous amount and taken actions to support these soldiers over the last couple of years, we recognize we must be even more aggressive in determining how the program and efforts that are working effectively in support of our soldiers on active duty may be modified or expanded to better support soldiers not serving on active duty, Department of the Army civilians and family members.
We must continue to find ways to replicate that progress and leverage Army, Veterans Administration and community programs and services in order to deliver a similar effective level of care and support to individuals not living and working near a military installation.
I can assure you this remains a top priority, and we’re working very, very hard to get at this unique challenge by working with employers of Guard and Reserve soldiers and the private sector to mitigate economic stress on reserve component soldiers, by educating soldiers and the public about the overuse and abuse of prescription drugs, by improving families’ awareness of and access to training and resources, and by enhancing the quality and access to medical care, telehealth and telemedicine options and counseling services.
We’re also encouraging communities and community-based organizations to get involved, recognizing that particularly for citizen soldiers not serving on active duty, family, peers and employers represent the bedrock of their support network.
The bottom line is this is a significant issue, and clearly there is much to be done. But I am confident many of our nation’s very best and brightest men and women from academia, industry, the medical community, DOD and government as a whole are working tirelessly in this seminal area. I assure you we remain committed to finding further ways to promote resiliency, reduce the incidence of high-risk behavior, improve the quality of family and soldier support programs, and eliminate the stigma associated with seeking and receiving help across our force of 1.1 million and beyond, to include our Department of the Army civilians and family members.
Again, thank you for coming. And now Jack, Ray and I will be happy to answer any questions that you might have.
GEN. CHIARELLI: Yes, ma’am.
Q: Sir, on the decrease in active-duty, could you give us an example of a program change or policy change that you think made a difference? In some details that we can understand, why is it -- why does it seem to be working now compared to things that didn’t?
GEN. CHIARELLI: I can name a couple. I think the institution of comprehensive soldier fitness has had an effect and will have even a greater effect in the year to come, just as we continue to roll out that program and get more mass to resilience trainers not only in the active component force, but in the Guard and in the Reserve.
We know that resilient soldiers are less likely to try to commit suicide. We just -- we know that. And we’ve got some real data now from comprehensive soldier fitness at the University of Nebraska, which compared -- de-identified psychological data collected on soldiers who later completed suicide with a group randomly selected, a living comparison group.
And the researchers found that, broadly speaking, resilient soldiers do not complete suicide. And we know we can teach soldiers through that program to become more resilient. So this to us is exciting. And as you know, we’ve got online modules. We’ve got master resilience trainers that are down in units, and they’re working to teach soldiers to be more resilient.
I think the confidential alcohol and drug treatment program, where if an individual at, currently, eight installations feels that they have a problem, they can self-refer themselves for counseling and that’s not reported to their chain of command -- and although it received some resistance from the field when we first implemented it, at all eight locations where it has been implemented commanders really, really appreciate the program because they’ve had people come forward and seek help that because of the stigma wouldn’t normally do that.
And I -- and my final thing I’ll tell you is I think the increase in marriage and family-life counselors is a huge one. MFLCs are our program, and I’d invite you to go out and talk to families at posts, camps and stations. Not only do we have them down in units, but we’re pushing them into schools, we’re pushing them into communities. And they are just an unbelievable resource that’s highly thought of by the field.
Q: And this comprehensive fitness is about a year old? The drug program -- (off mic)
GEN. CHIARELLI: We’ve been rolling that out for about the last year, and if I could, I would have it in every single post, camp and station. But what I can’t -- I can’t get enough substance abuse counselors hired. It’s not a money issue now; it’s a supply issue. There just aren’t enough of them.
And they are also being pulled out of that particular labor market as substance abuse counselors because there’s such a need for behavior health counselors. Many of them have the same bona fides and credentials that allow them to fleet up and become -- because we have a shortage there, too -- behavior health counselors, which it seems like every time I hire 10, I lose 10. And it’s not that they go someplace else; it’s they become behavior health counselors, or work their way into that field.
Q: And the marriage and life counseling, that’s the same program but more of it? But --
GEN. CHIARELLI: Yeah, that’s the same program but more of it -- (chuckles) -- a lot more of it.
Q: General, the task force report that you issued in July made a big deal about how the Army wasn’t doing a good job of reporting and tracking high-risk behavior. So I’m wondering, first, whether you’ve had any success in improving that and, second, how you do it with Reserve component soldiers. How do you -- how do you track -- how do you keep an eye on low-risk behavior?
GEN. CHIARELLI: Well, we’ve almost turned that around. And quite frankly, that was a pretty -- for us in the active component force, that was a pretty easy way to do that, because when a soldier commits some kind of a high-risk event that gets him put on what I think many of you know is the blotter, okay, there’s a form that goes to a commander that a commander has to fill out within 30 days that basically says what action you’ve taken, doesn’t force the commander to take action, but it at least closes out the case and forces something to occur.
We -- prior to the publication of the report, in some installations we had less than 60 percent compliance in returning that report back. Now we have gone well over 90 and in some places a hundred percent in getting that back to authorities within the 30-day mark and taking the necessary action. And that -- all that form does is, it ensures that we’ve got a record of what has occurred, so that it goes on from commander to commander.
I will let Jack and Ray answer how they do it, but I can only imagine theirs is much more difficult because of -- they’re working in individual communities.
Ray, do you want to start?
GEN. CARPENTER: Yes, sir. I’d give you an example of how we’ve managed to identify the problem and improve upon that. One of the high-risk behaviors we see out there across the National Guard, Army National Guard, is riding motorcycles. That is a high-risk behavior. To mitigate that risk, the requirement is to wear the proper protective equipment and clothing: a helmet, leathers, those kinds of things.
And so from a policy standpoint at the National Guard Bureau, we have put out a policy to the states that says motorcycle riders will -- if they’re in the National Guard, will take the appropriate training and will wear the proper protective clothing, equipment, if they’re going to ride a motorcycle. We have seen a significant reduction in casualties and injuries from motorcycles over the past year in 2010. We implemented this program in 2008 and executed in 2009, 2010.
With regard to the specific discussion we’re having right now with suicides and mental health, behavioral health issues, we have a program out there, it’s an online kind of tool, where it’s a self- assessment for the soldier to go in and fill out what he or she does on a daily basis, identify the risk behavior; and in conjunction with his or her leader, develop the process for how to mitigate that.
Now, it’s not fully implemented by any means yet, but it’s a way for us to maintain contact with the soldier and mitigate the risk behavior.
GEN. STULTZ: Now, I’d say with the Army Reserve, echo on what Ray said. You know, one of the challenges we have in our force, as General Chiarelli said, is they’re geographically dispersed. In some cases with my force I’ve got soldiers that may live in Georgia but they belong to a unit in Tennessee, so they travel a significant distance to get to that unit.
So having a link to them in the other 28 days of the month when they’re not there with the unit is a challenge.
Part of what we’ve done this year is put a real emphasis on that first line of leader, that he’s got to maintain contact with his soldiers throughout the month so he knows what’s going on in their life -- not just on that one weekend when they come into a drill, but what’s going on the other three weeks of that month when they’re out there. We’re looking at some types of devices, obviously iPhones and things that are out there, but some systems where we can maintain that contact even better.
But I think another key piece of it is we’ve got to make the suicide prevention plan a family plan, because it’s that family that’s with the soldier the other 28 days of the month. And they’re the ones that start to see those signs, that high-risk behavior and other things. And we’ve got to -- when we talk about reducing the stigma, too often we focus only on the soldier and say it’s okay to ask for help. We’ve got to reduce the stigma in that family member that says, "If I see my son, daughter, husband, wife doing something that’s high- risk, doing something that I think is dangerous that may endanger themselves, it’s okay for me to call their commander or their first sergeant or somebody in that unit and say, ‘I need some help.’" And so we’re putting a big emphasis on our suicide prevention training not just being about the soldier, but training the family as well, because we’ve got to figure out how to maintain contact and awareness of what’s going on in the soldier’s life the other 28 days that we don’t seem them.
GEN. CHIARELLI: You know when I first stood in front of you two years and really we started this whole process, we were only focused on one single number of 140 and we were only talking active component. Many of your questions and your articles and what you did, we’ve expanded that to include all the classes.
And we look at five different groups of individuals. We look at active component soldiers. We look at Guard. We look at Reserve. We look at Department of the Army civilians. And we look at family members.
So the numbers -- you know, and for those of you who know anything about the military, candidly, this may seem as quibbling -- we have really only focused on this group, both the Army Reserve and the Army National Guard, to collect this data for about five years. Whether or not that’s got anything to do with the numbers we see today or not, I don’t know.
But we know we’ve got a problem that we probably didn’t recognize we had before, and we’ve got to get at and figure out innovative ways to try to get the kinds of things that seem now to be working, the active component force, out to the Guard and Reserve -- not only the couple of days that they’re at drill a month, but in their communities and in the environments that they live.
Q: General, thank you. How big is the problem as far as Afghanistan is concerned? Is it something that they are homesick or lonely?
And also, just I’m sure that they watch suicide killings, nonmilitary, like, people who are killed by -- in the name of religion or something and they put bombs on their body and they commit suicide. Is this a factor also --impacts on the military?
GEN. CHIARELLI: Are you talking about specific suicides that take place in Afghanistan?
Q: Yes, sir.
GEN. CHIARELLI: We haven’t seen any increase in those numbers. They have basically remained. I’m giving you a broad -- the -- one- third of our soldiers are deployed, one-thirds of our soldiers have deployment history and one-third of our soldiers have never deployed.
Now those numbers, over the years, have changed a little bit. But we have not seen anything that is an alarming increase in Afghanistan. Every suicide that takes place, no matter where it is, is a tragedy. But I can’t really point to anything that’s going on in theater other than the normal stressors that you can only imagine, from relationship issues to multiple deployments with very little time at home, to the kinds of things that we’ve talked about in the past that would be, you know, causing -- that I could point to as the cause for suicides in theater.
Q: Sir, you didn’t mention the fact that your -- with the drawdown in Iraq, your people are going less often. You’re getting more dwell time. Do you think that’s a factor at all in helping reduce that?
GEN. CHIARELLI: It’s really important to understand that just because all of a sudden you can project that somebody’s going to be home two years, they haven’t been home two years until they’ve been home two years. And we -- if you go back and look at the Iraq drawdown, no one is feeling the effect of the Iraq drawdown right now, if you understand what I’m saying. They are all -- their dwell time is what it is.
I really believe, when we put more time between deployments that is going to be a huge factor in helping us get at a lot of these problems. I really believe that dwell is one of the things we’ve got to look at. And it has an impact on all kinds of problems -- not just suicides, but, you know, all the things that fall short of suicide, from relationship issues to drug and alcohol abuse to all those -- high-risk behavior. To all of those things, the more time we can get between deployments, the better off we’re going to be. But you don’t experience that until you’ve experienced it, not just when the calendar says, "Okay, you’re going to be home for two years."
Q: And how close are you to a two-to-one dwell?
GEN. CHIARELLI: We hope by the end of this year across the board as a total number we’ll be close to one-to-two. But we’re still going to have MOS’es, military occupational specialties, such as aviation. And aviation right now is running at a year deployed, 1.4 at home.
They are really, really moving out.
GEN. STULTZ: Yes, ma’am.
Q: Are you noticing anything in the numbers in terms of women and suicides or PTSD, or are all these 343 men? Is there anything notable about the stress on women in the force? And if I could ask you a peripheral question, there’s a recent report that women should now be allowed to serve in on-line combat divisions. What -- how do you feel about that?
GEN. CHIARELLI: I took a look because there was -- there was an article that came out in December in one of the very prominent journals of psychiatry that talked about a particular report about women veterans had a higher suicide rate than their male counterparts.
I have not had an opportunity to look into that and dig into it, but I did look at our numbers for 2010 in women, women who committed suicide. And the numbers are very, very small. I believe we’re at somewhere in the vicinity of 7 percent, and that 93 percent are in fact males.
So we’re not seeing anything in those numbers that would indicate. The resiliency of women, I may be out of school to state this, seems to be higher for whatever reason -- and I’m sure that you can explain it -- than it is in men in some instances. And that may be why we have a lower resiliency -- a lower suicide rate in women, based on the number that we have deployed.
GEN. CHIARELLI: We have women in combat today.
Q: But this recommendation that they would be in all positions, do you think it’s time for that?
GEN. CHIARELLI: Let me get through all these others questions and then maybe we can talk about that.
Q: The one-third, one-third, one-third deployed, never deployed, are deployed -- what’s the breakdown for the Guard and Reserve, if you know it, right now? And then of the suicides in the Guard and Reserve in 2010, how many of those had deployed -- had ever deployed --
GEN. CHIARELLI: Great question. I’ll let Jack -- I’ll just talk about -- I’m talking about that active component force -- one-third, one-third, one-third. So that’s 66 percent or between 66 and 70 percent have deployment history or are deployed. But that’s not the same in the Guard and Reserve, and I’ll let Jack and Ray -- do you want to start, Ray?
GEN. CARPENTER: Yes, sir.
For us in the Army National Guard, we had 112 suicides reported in FY 10, now understanding that 11 of those 112 were on active duty, as General Chiarelli mentioned.
GEN. CHIARELLI: So 11 of those -- of my 156 that I report as active component, 11 of those are Army National Guard soldiers who are on active duty, if you understand what I’m saying, and I believe it’s five --
GEN. CARPENTER: Six.
GEN. CHIARELLI: Six. So 17 of that 156 were Guard and Reserve soldiers who were on active duty at the time they committed suicide.
GEN. CARPENTER: So as we look at that problem, which, as General Chiarelli mentioned, seen a dramatic increase in 2010, we’ve got two obvious questions we have to answer. First of all, what happened in 2010? And then second of all, we have to be able to respond and tell people what we’re doing about it.
The analysis for 2010 shows that it’s not a deployment problem, because over 50 percent of the people that committed suicide in the Army National Guard in 2010 had never deployed. It is not a problem of employment, because only about 15 percent of the people who committed suicide in fact were without a job.
And as you look at it, part of it is a significant relationship problem, because over 50 percent of those who committed suicide, as you do the analysis, had some sort of a partner problem that they were dealing with, whether it was marriage, divorce or a girlfriend, boyfriend, that kind of thing.
What we do know is it is a young white male problem. And to the earlier question, 103 of those were male and nine were women in the 112 that we have inside the Army National Guard. It’s a traditional National Guard problem in that 101 of those soldiers had other jobs, were going to school, were not full-time in the Army National Guard. And we do know that we have seen an improved reporting over the past four years since we started keeping data in 2007 through 2010, which we think is a good thing because now we’ve got the problem out there and we can deal with it.
And then anecdotally we know that society at large is seeing an increased trend in suicides. And as you look at the Centers for Disease Control statistics -- the last of which are readily available are in 2007, and here we are in 2010 -- and I think General Chiarelli would readily point out to you, you know, we’ve seen a significant change in everything from economic to some societal issues out there. And so we are really kind of, as he puts it, the canary in the mine shaft, especially for us in the National Guard because we recruit in local communities and we are a reflection of those communities. And so we think that the suicide rate that we’re experiencing right now is part of a national trend.
And our effort is to build resiliency in our soldiers, which I can talk about a little bit more in another question. But the bottom line here is, as we do the analysis, it’s not a single thing. It is a combination of a group of things that come together.
GEN. STULTZ: And -- (inaudible) -- Army Reserve, we’re -- (inaudible) -- you know, our suicides are not an employment issue. Half of our personnel who committed suicide are employed.
It’s not a -- stress on the force. It’s -- less than half of them had deployed. It’s just what Ray said; it’s something else going on in their lives.
It’s very interesting, as we do the -- what we call the psychological autopsy of looking at the individual afterwards, in most of the cases, one of the most positive things they have going in their life is their military career. A lot of times, as we do the psychological autopsy and we talk to family and friends, they will talk about that this individual was so proud of being a member of the Army Reserve and felt so good about going to his drill and being part of his unit. It was something else in his life that was missing, and that’s what we’ve got to find out.
And that’s what we talked about earlier, of being aware of what’s going on in the rest of their life. It is a mirror of society, and we need to understand that. When they’re with us on the military side, we take care and protect them, and the soldiers feel that they are taken care of.
GEN. CHIARELLI: And I’d just, you know, kind of try and put this in context. We’re talking about 343 suicides here, but some of the numbers that I’ve seen -- in the country last year, the numbers could be as high as 35,000. So we’re talking about less than 1 percent of the -- of that total number. And it’ll be interesting when the CDC finally does catch up -- if they ever catch up -- to compare, to then go back and look at what was happening in the military, as we report these numbers to you 19 days after the end of the year, as we go back and compare it to what was really going on in the country at the time, when we get the numbers that are up to date.
Q: Sir, what -- is your definition of a soldier who has become more resilient? What do you mean by someone who’s learned to be more resilient? What have you added to his life?
GEN. CHIARELLI: You know, this is my definition. But it has four pillars, but the key to me is an individual can be put in a tough situation and comes out the same or better for it, rather than an individual that’s put into a tough situation and deteriorates or has a negative impact by that -- whatever that situation is.
And some people are able to be put in some very, very difficult situations and come out stronger for it, learn from that situation and move on, where others can’t.
And I would only add to what both Ray and Jack said here is, that I’ve been looking at this hard for two years like they’ve been looking at it for two years. And I think our underlying message to you is, if you think you know the one thing that causes people to commit suicide, please let us know, because we don’t.
You know, I -- it gets very, very -- you want to say, well, it’s a relationship issue, because between 72 and 74 percent of your -- of your soldiers have relationship issues. Well, is it the relationship issue, or is it what caused the relationship issue? I don’t think any of us in relationships wake up one day and say: I’m going to have a relationship issue. There’s a series of issues that occur, and that can be anything from high-risk behavior to drug and alcohol abuse to anger-management issues, whatever they might be, and then the relationship issue happens. So I think that we’re standing in front of you to tell you that.
Now, I will tell you, we’re hoping that Army Study To Assess Risk and Resilience in Service members (STARRS), our partnership with the National Institute of Mental Health, is going to provide us some opportunities here to understand this a heck of a lot better.
And I got back, as luck would have it and as doctors would provide it and researchers would provide it, I got back last night about at least a couple hundred pages of analysis from the data that we’ve given them that we’ve got to work our way through here in the next couple weeks. But we should be able to understand a little bit more from the historical data we were able to provide them and the NIMH and start to put that to use here in the next month or so.
Q: General, last -- in July, you said, as I recall, 40 percent of suicides are by active-duty soldiers who never deployed, and now these numbers from Guard and the Reserve saying the vast majority were not in active-duty when they committed suicide. I’m curious how much of an issue you think that it is in terms of health, mental-health screening when you’re recruiting new soldiers, since so many seem to be happening amongst those who’ve never deployed or early in their military career?
GEN. CHIARELLI: Well, we’re going to look at everything we possibly can. One of the early looks that the NIMH helped us with was to take a look at what we were doing for screening. And they indicated we were doing about as good as we could, given some of the limitations that we all have.
If you want to join the United States Army, I look you in the face and ask you if you’ve never had any mental health problems. And if you say no, that’s basically it. I do not have access to your medical records. You do not have to provide them to me. And even if you did provide me one set of medical records, there’s no guarantee that they’re complete.
There is screening that we can do. And we’ve been told that at least as much as know right now, our screening is pretty good. But we’ll be looking at all the ways we possibly can to try to get at this.
Q: And is the mental health screening the same across the board for those looking to join active-duty Army and Guard and Reserve?
GEN. CHIARELLI: I believe it is exactly the same.
GEN. STULTZ: Yes. It’s the same standard.
GEN. CHIARELLI: Yeah.
Q: You said that you were partnering with private industry. Would you mind just ticking off a couple of examples as to how private industry is helping with this process?
GEN. CHIARELLI: Well, the employers of the Guard and Reserve is an -- is an area that we know that we’ve got to get at. I agree with them; we’re not pointing at the economy as the reason. But it’s one of those factors we’ve got to look at in ensuring that, when our soldiers come back -- and I don’t want to point any single industry -- but that we’re looking into understanding what their job status is.
I mean, I’ve had anecdotal reports of units coming back and being demobilized and as many as 30 percent of them coming home and not having a job. That’s something commanders need to know about, we need to know about, and we need to look hard at what we can do to help them through that period.
You know, we could not have done what we’ve done for the last 10 years, almost 10 years, if it hadn’t been for the two gentlemen and the forces that they command on my right and my left. Their contribution has been absolutely amazing. When you go to a demobilization station of Reserve or Guard soldiers, you’re not running into a bunch of soldiers on their first deployment. We’re running into soldiers in the Guard and Reserve that have been on three and four deployments. And I’m sure there’s a little bit of employer fatigue that occurs. What they’re looking for, I think, is predictability. And we’ve had a rough time giving that to them in every single case before.
So we’ve got to look at that, in my opinion, as one of the ways the kind of information that those of us in the active component wouldn’t normally think of trying to collect on soldiers, we’ve got to be more conscious of that as they go through the demob station, and then do everything we can to get them back and having jobs.
I’ll let you --
GEN. STULTZ: Well, we started a program a couple of years ago, partnered with employers in the Army Reserve, mainly because of what General Chiarelli said. You know, if we’re going to be able to sustain the op tempo that we’ve got, we’ve got to have our families, we’ve got have our employers. And what we have turned that into is actually, instead of going to the employers and talking about taking soldiers away from them when we need them, we’re turning the tables and going to them and saying, tell us what you need, because we’ve got this wealth of talent.
You know, when you read the statistics about only one out of three, and now I’m hearing one out of four individuals in America qualify to even join the Army, because they’ve got to be drug free, they’ve got to be physically fit, they got to be morally fit, they’ve got to all -- so the employers are having the same challenge.
And we’ve got this wealth of talent that is trained, that is drug-free, that is physically fit, that is morally fit. And so we’ve started approaching the health systems of America because we have 60 percent of the medical structure of the Army; the transportation system of America because we have 80 percent of the transportation assets in the Army between Ray and myself.
What we’re finding now is there’s a lot of employers out there that are viewing the Reserve and Guard in a much more positive manner of this human capital that’s out there if we just partner together, capitalize on the skills and the values and the ethics that we’ve already instilled in them; and as General Chiarelli said, give them some predictability so that they can plan around when we need that soldier in uniform and when they can use him in a civilian aspect.
Today -- we started out with just a couple of employers. Today we’ve got over a thousand employers who’ve signed up with us as employer partners. We’ve incorporated the Guard and the other services into this program. And it’s everything from small mom-and- pop stores in middle America to places like Wal-Mart, Target, General Electric -- those types of corporations -- Snyder Trucking, the D.C. police force and NOVA Healthcare here in Northern Virginia that are offering jobs to the Guard and Reserve soldiers as their -- force of-- first choice for employment.
GEN. CARPENTER: I think that, you know, from the National Guard perspective, we are very proud of our partnership with the Army Reserve and this employer partnership office. But there are other areas -- we have 54 states, territories and district that have adjutant generals across the United States and the Army National Guard. And each one of those leaders sponsors initiatives at their level in terms of trying to support various employment initiatives.
I would give you an example. The 81st Brigade, which came back from Iraq about a year and a half ago, is home -- calls the state of Washington its home. And when they came back, they had an unemployment rate of around 33 percent. The state of Washington put together a program called employ -- employer transition counselors. And those ETCs, if you will, acted as kind of sponsors and took the soldiers who did not have jobs; helped them fill out their resumes; went on a job search, if you will, kind of a headhunter, to make sure that those individuals found a job and that they were employed. That 33 percent employment rate that we saw about a year and a half ago now is down is down to 10 percent in the state of Washington, which, by the way, has got a higher employment -- unemployment rate than the average across the nation. So there are some huge success stories out there.
STAFF: Yes, sir.
Q: General, Charley Keyes, CNN. I was wondering if you could share your own personal reaction and level of frustration as the suicide numbers became clear over the course of the year, and also identify any particular installation -- maybe Fort Hood, for instance -- that’s taken particular steps to combat the suicides.
GEN. CHIARELLI: Well, what you learn when you do this over time -- it’s been two years now -- is that every year there’s going to be one post that has more than any other post. That’s just the nature of the business, and that’s how we keep track. And Fort Hood was our highest post this year.
And then you immediately go back and say: Oh, well, wait a second now. We had the events of November 5th, 2009. Is there any link to that in what occurred?
And I can tell you, of the 21 suicides that we had at Fort Hood last year, we only know of one individual who was even remotely associated with that horrific event, and that was an individual that was being seen in the emergency room for something totally different at the time that people were being brought into the emergency room.
So we were watching Fort Hood very, very carefully. And as the numbers started to go up at Fort Hood, we were in every single case trying to see if there was any connection between those two events, and -- or the event of the individual suicide and what happened in November of 2009. And there clearly wasn’t.
One of the things that happened at Ford Hood this year is Fort Hood had in July 43,000 soldiers that were back at home station for the first time that they had had 43,000 soldiers -- (chuckles) -- in a long time. If I look at the Hood numbers, they’ve had one suicide in September, October, November and December. Their suicides were basically front-loaded on the front end of the year and into the summertime.
And it’s the same phenomena I saw last year with Fort Campbell. And this Fort Campbell’s numbers have gone down significantly and Hood’s have gone up.
So, you know, I’m frustrated at every single suicide. I mean, each one is briefed to me. I receive a report within 36 hours on each one of them. I see the similarities. I see the differences. And we’re trying to share as much information as we can with the field on how to get at it.
But when you realize that we’re taking a young American in the Army today and we’re putting them -- psychologists will tell you, in six years in the United States Army under the op tempo that we’re on right now, we’re putting them in -- under as much stress in a six-year period as they would have if they lived to be 80 years old in Seattle, Washington and did whatever they did in Seattle, Washington. We’re putting folks under a lot of stress.
And the positive thing I see is I really believe some of our programs are beginning to work, but more important than anything else our leaders are fully engaged with this problem right now. We’re getting at the stigma issue. We’re getting people the help that they need. And I hope you’re going to see these numbers go down significantly in the coming year.
STAFF: Sir, I think we’ve got time for two more questions.
GEN. CHIARELLI: Yes, sir.
Q: Bryant Jordan, military.com. Among the soldiers who committed suicide in 2010, had any of them taken the Comprehensive Soldier Fitness test, and were you able to glean any information based on -- reviewing those?
GEN. CHIARELLI: Well, I don’t look at those numbers, because we have guarded the confidentiality of the GAT, and we will continue to guard the confidentiality of the GAT.
However, I mean, it would stand to reason that -- I think last time I heard over 890,000 folks had taken the GAT -- that somewhere among those 890,000 folks is an individual possibly who could have committed suicide. But that’s not something that I’m going to go after, because we have promised soldiers confidentiality with that instrument, and we are bound and determined to maintain that.
Q: And that will -- that confidentiality, it goes in effect even if the soldier is dead and you might not -- and you might be able to learn something from what they answered on those questions?
GEN. CHIARELLI: Well, I just got to tell you; we may look at data blindly, okay? I don’t know exactly what’s been done there. But the confidentiality of the GAT is of utmost importance to us, and we will guard that like we do all our data, to make sure that people don’t believe we’re using an instrument for something other than what we said we were going to use it for.
Q: General, do you think you are doing enough in order to help individuals to seek assistance, instead of them to hide this pressure and not tell in this?
GEN. CHIARELLI: Are we doing enough to get at the stigma?
Q: Do you think you can do something else to help individuals to go ahead and seek assistance?
GEN. CHIARELLI: Well, I think we’re doing a lot. I think the new protocols that have been put in down range have a secondary effect -- that we put in place for TBI and post-traumatic stress are having a secondary effect at getting at the stigma issue, because I really believe that the force now understands that traumatic brain injury and post-traumatic stress are no-kidding injuries and that they’re seeking help.
We’re seeing resiliency centers, for those of you who have been down range; spring up all over Afghanistan today. That’s a very positive thing. That gets people in to be seen when they’ve got these issues.
You know, suicide is this ultimate act that -- and resides at the far end of the spectrum. And what became clear to me as I started looking into this, there’s a whole bunch of folks who will never contemplate nor commit suicide or attempt to commit suicide that are hurting out there, and we’ve got to get at those folks. And when you get at those folks, I think the far end of the spectrum will, in fact, be -- will lower, because we’re getting at problems when they are problems, before they come to a crescendo where somebody feels that they have to take their life. And that is just totally unacceptable.
So I really believe we’re leading an effort to destigmatize soldiers, family members, DA civilians seeking help when they have these behavioral health issues. They are injuries that must be taken care of.
Q: General, you said in the past several occasions that you thought -- you couldn’t help but think that the suicide increases track with the Army’s fighting two wars, and you couldn’t help think the two are somehow related.
Do you still hold to that with the National Guard increase, given that their lives really are minimally impacted by the Army, and then -- or is it possible that’s more of a -- more of a -- factors that come from the civilian world? Or --
GEN. CHIARELLI: Well, sir, I’ve come to the conclusion that there is no single factor. But I also believe that NIMH is going to be basically -- I think some of their initial data may show us that the deployment and the deployment history of our soldiers has an impact on suicide; that you’re -- that is a factor among many factors that we have to take into account.
And, you know, it’s not just the physical act of deploying, it’s all the other things that happens. It’s the relationship issues. It may be an individual who comes back and relies on alcohol to a level that he had not or she had not relied on it before. And maybe the person who has a rough time handling the prescription drugs that in some instances are all we know to prescribe for some of these things and there a -- are something that is a critical portion of treatment, albeit we’re doing our best to lower that as much as we possibly can or lower the incidence of prescribing a lot of drugs.
But I think it’s all those things. And I honestly believe that the numbers are going to show that the OPTEMPO that we’ve been under is a contributing factor to the -- to the rate that both -- that we’ve experienced in the last seven years.
Q: But do you think that’s a factor, still, in the National Guard given their minimal contact with deployments and the Army?
GEN. CHIARELLI: They don’t have minimal contacts. It’s just -- I mean, we’re reporting a number to you that -- in Ray’s case, I think he said over 50 percent of your soldiers had not --
GEN. CARPENTER: Had not deployed.
GEN. CHIARELLI: -- had not deployed.
GEN. CARPENTER: But that means that almost 50 percent had deployed. And so to say that there was minimal contact is really not an accurate description of the situation we’ve got.
Now, to General Chiarelli’s point, understanding that there is no single cause but understanding we have to get at all those causes, we have tried to focus on the soldiers we have deployed and make sure that we meet their needs as they come back home.
We have a reintegration program that includes families, communities and employers, called Yellow Ribbon. It’s been hugely successful. And there is a process where the soldier meets with counselors, meets with various subject-matter experts over the 90-day period when they come back, and even beyond that, along with the family, to identify: You know what? How do I reintegrate? What are the problems I’m going to have? How do I deal with them? Those kinds of things.
And beyond that, we have a great partnership with the Veterans Administration in the medical piece, with PDHRA, Post-Deployment Health Reintegration Assessment. Those tools are all out there for us to identify problems that those soldiers had while they were on active duty, to make sure that they get what they are deserving of -- service equal to their service, if you will -- as they come back.
Now, for the soldiers who have never been deployed, we have a little bit more difficult issue, because they’re not entitled to Veterans Administration benefits. We encourage them to be part of TRICARE Reserve Select, which is a program that provides health insurance and coverage for soldiers who are in the National Guard regardless of deployment. And through that venue, we can provide medical support and medical care for them.
Again, there are probably upwards of a hundred programs by the time you include what each adjutant general is doing out there, what we’re doing in conjunction with the Army and what we’re sponsoring at a national level. And so this is an all-hands effort here, if you will, to solve this problem and to focus on what we think the problems are and put efforts against each one of those particular causes. So I think that, even though it’s a complex problem, we are going to deal with it with equal complexity and equal effort.
GEN. CHIARELLI: Jack, anything you want to add?
STAFF: (Off mic) -- the last question.
Q: General, it sounds like a theme that you’re saying here is that on the active side, given all that you’re doing, that the numbers would actually be higher than they have been the last three years, given that the numbers of the last three years are actually double what they were like five, six years ago. But you think that they might even have been higher without your efforts?
GEN. CHIARELLI: I hate to assign a cause and effect to anything, but I’ve got to believe that the involvement of our leadership and the programs that we’ve rolled out have saved soldiers’ lives.
I hear -- you know, besides hearing about those suicides, what we’ve tried to do now is to collect the stories where in fact involved leadership has saved a solder. And I can give you a lot of those stories where we know that we’ve saved a soldier from, you know, committing or attempting to commit suicide.
So yes, I believe unequivocally that there would be higher numbers if we did not have the focus of the leadership and the programs that we’ve rolled out to get at this problem. And we will continue to do that in the next year and beyond.
Q: General, thank you.
GEN. CHIARELLI: Thank you.