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Tuesday, March 17, 2009

Senate Hearing on Military Suicides Slated for Wednesday, March 18, as Army Continues to Attack Problem

Over the course of the past years, with a notable uptick in tempo over the past few months, we've been witnessing a distressing rise in military suicides. We outside observers haven't been alone in taking note. The military has as well.

The Army, for instance, has been undergoing a month long "stand down" meant to put renewed focus on suicide prevention. They now enter the "chain teaching" phase, which will run through July 15. (In 2007, a 90-day PTSD/TBI education chain teaching program was initiated.) In addition, last week Army Vice Chief of Staff Peter Chiarelli held a blogger's roundtable [audio-mp3], "assuring those on the line that the Army understands the severity of the problem, and is doing everything it can to prevent even a single suicide from happening."

"The culture of the Army is that of a team," said Chiarelli. "And anytime one of our own feels so lost that he or she sees no other option than to take their own life, then we've failed as an organization." And so, the real work begins.

The Army is also introducing a new fitness program, set to launch in May, that will combine physical and mental strength and resiliency training. Army Chief of Staff Gen. George W. Casey Jr. said it is "designed to move mental fitness up to the level we give to physical fitness" and will "give more soldiers coping skills so they can deal with the difficult challenges of combat and come back stronger."

It's good to see the Army (and other military branches) responding as they are. While a small element, kudos to their using blogger's roundtables to engage more intimately and directly with us. [I was invited to take part in one last summer, but was unavailable; I mention it, though, because it does show that they are trying to reach out to more of us in ways that they never had before.]

Many, many Americans care about this issue, and wish to ensure that our military families have the resources they need when they serve, and when they return home, too.

In educational interest, article(s) quoted from extensively.

We have had much to be angry about in this regard.

But, while it's always easy for individuals from the outside to find something to criticize in large bureaucracies such as our military and VA systems (and I've been known to take part in that sport a time or two), and while members of the Senate Armed Services Subcommittee on Personnel will surely grill the military officials taking part in tomorrow's hearing on military suicide, let's also give credit where and when credit is due.

We, today, are seeing great changes to military culture.

Those of us who have been pushing on the outside deserve some credit for paying attention to the issue and acting in whatever ways we can to advocate for our military families. Veterans from previous wars, especially those of the Vietnam and Gulf War generation, who are no longer fully inside the military system have played a key role, working to secure the more positive way our younger generation of vets returning from Afghanistan and Iraq are considered and cared for.

And returning OEF/OIF veterans and military spouses and parents and siblings and aunts and uncles and friends have also rallied and made their voice heard in unprecedented ways, using new media and other more traditional channels to build community and draw attention to their needs. But, those on the inside pushing for improvement deserve credit today, too.

Yes, we have a long way to go. Yes, we are way behind.

Yes, we have lost too many to suicide, and we will surely, sadly, painfully and plainly lose too many before we can fully stem the tide. The sands of time continue to slip thorough our fingers. But, let's also take a look at the positive signs of change and corrections emanating from our military.

Let's keep it going in the right direction...

Details, schedule and witnesses for Wednesday's Senate Armed Services subcommittee hearing on military suicides:


There will be a meeting of the Subcommittee on PERSONNEL
Wednesday, March 18, 2009 - 2:45 PM
Room SH-216, Hart Senate Office Building

To receive testimony on the incidence of suicides of United States Servicemembers and initiatives within the Department of Defense to prevent military suicides

>>> WATCH LIVE WEBCAST <<< (Begins at 2:45 Eastern)


Honorable John Cornyn
United States Senator


General Peter W. Chiarelli, USA
Vice Chief of Staff
United States Army

Admiral Patrick M. Walsh, USN
Vice Chief of Naval Operations
United States Navy

General James F. Amos, USMC
Assistant Commandant
United States Marine Corps

General William M. Fraser, III, USAF
Vice Chief of Staff
United States Air Force


Lieutenant General Benjamin C. Freakley, USA
Commanding General
U.S. Army Accessions Command
Deputy Commanding General,
Initial Military Training

Major General David A. Rubenstein, USA
Deputy Surgeon General
United States Army

Brigadier General Loree K. Sutton, USA
Defense Centers of Excellence for Psychological
Health and Traumatic Brain Injury

Michael S. Michael S. Linnington, USA
Commandant, U.S. Corps of Cadets
United States Military Academy

Ms. A. Kathryn Power, M.Ed.
Center of Mental Health Services
Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services
Department of Health and Human Services

Two weeks ago, 100 Army chaplains and chaplain assistants convened in Crystal City, Va., to see how best they can help to tackle the problem. The Pentagon reported on the gathering and the system wide suicide prevention efforts underway:

Poster being used in the Army's suicide prevention program:


On the just-completed month long Army-wide stand down:

The Army has created a suicide prevention task force as part of its month-long “stand-down” to address suicides among soldiers, the service’s vice chief of staff said yesterday. ...

In keeping with the complexity of the problem, the task force will have members from a range of staff sections and functional areas. “My charter is ... to look across all disciplines so… commander[s] can have a menu of tools and training programs and experts and know how to best deploy them,” McGuire said.

The task force will include representatives from the Army’s offices of personnel and human resources, the provost marshal’s office, and the medical department, and it will coordinate closely with the chief of chaplains, Lt. Col. Leo Ruth, a task force member, said in an interview with Army News Service. The task force will examine all of the Army’s recent suicides and try to find commonalities, Ruth said. ...The ultimate product, he said, will be a suicide prevention campaign plan.

The task force will only form the genesis of the campaign plan, Ruth said, stressing that the task force is a temporary organization. The Army also has partnered with the National Institute of Mental Health for a long-range study to determine the causes of suicide in the Army.

An Armywide “stand down” for suicide prevention training continues through March 15 whereby commands and individual units take part in four-hour training sessions on how to recognize and try to prevent suicides.

The centerpiece of the training is an interactive video called “Beyond the Front” that Chiarelli told online journalists is “some of the best facilitation for training that I’ve seen in 36 years in the Army.” He said the purpose of the video is to reduce the stigma of seeking help, to teach soldiers to recognize the signs of suicide and how to provide help to a buddy.

It’s especially important for junior officers and noncommissioned officers to train with the video and be able to offer intervention to soldiers at risk, Chiarelli said.

A glimpse at the "Beyond the Front" video -- a note of caution: some jarring/violent scenes open the piece:

In this local "Fort Report," Fort Huachuca participates in the Army-wide stand down, inviting and seeking the support of area civilians as well. The heartbreak and difficulty of the task before them rings through the first portion of the program, as Chaplain (LTC) David Epperson talks about the Army's heavy suicide losses.

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